Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mrs. Cheney's students write

From a persuasive essay on why Sweeney Todd should be rated PG-13.

"Sweeney Todd doesn't even have nudity, drugs or comments pertaining to sex or other absurdities."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's all about perspective, my friends.

Another chapter in the 9th grade mythology unit debacle:

Students are to write significant details about each god or goddess on a chart to turn in at the end of the unit. The chart has headings such as "Major Accomplishments", "Physical Description", "Hardships", etc.

At the end of a group presentation about Hestia, a student raised her hand and asked, "What was her major accomplishment?"

The presenters answered, "She was an eternal virgin."

To which a boy replied, "Oh, I put that under 'hardships'."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Did I ever mention?

In my 3rd period class I have a boy with the last name of Shakespeare, a boy named Tennyson and a boy named Dante. When I looked over my list for the trimester I was thinking, "Hey, that's kind of cool to have such literary names together in an English class." And I said as much to my class on the first day before I took attendance (to their blank stares, of course).

The first time taking roll in a Utah school can sometimes be rather awkward. Utah people come up with the stupidest names sometimes, or they come up with regular names with outrageous spellings. I always mispronounce at least one name in every class on the first day. However, this particular class was filled with Katelyns and Collins and Cheyannes--the only unusual names were Tennyson and Dante. So on the first day when I was taking roll, I was feeling pretty confident. I called out every name without a hitch until I got to the last name on roster.


No answer.


Silence. And then somebody says, "Ummm, we've never heard of a Daaahntay."

And then this squirrelly little redneck kids says, "It's Dant." You know, like it rhymes with ant. Dant. Except it's spelled Dante. Oh dear.

So I said what any self-respecting English teacher would say. "Well in this class you're DAAAAHNTAY!" Then I closed my attendance book and started teaching.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

If I quit posting it's because I got fired . . .

Why-oh-why did I agree to teach Greek Mythology to 9th graders???? And what was I thinking when I decided it would be a good idea for them to give group presentations on the Olympian gods? And where was my brain when I suggested they might look on the internet for pictures for visual aids?

Highlights from today:
  • during a presentation about Athena, two girls giggled as they told a myth about Hephaestus spilling his seed on Athena's thigh
  • during a presentation about Hades, the boy who put together a PowerPoint presentation complained loudly because the only pictures of Hades he could find online had visible twigs and berries
  • during a discussion about The Odyssey, in response to my wondering whether Odysseus might have been a willing prisoner of Calypso, a male students says, "Heck yeah he was willing--he was gettin' lucky in Kentucky!"
  • which of course directly relates to the two girls who could not stop giggling after telling the class that Athena's gift of olive trees was appreciated by the Greeks because olive oil makes a great lubricant
  • and to top it all off, at the end of our discussion of The Odyssey, a student said, "Man, this sounds just like The Bible." I said, "Good connection--The Bible is the Christian version of a book of myths." Immediately I had a dozen angry and offended students shouting at me, just as the bell rang. So I yelled after them, "Oh don't be so thin-skinned. All religions have a set of myths they hold to be true." I'm pretty sure that didn't help anything. It could have been an excellent discussion, really, if we had some time to really talk about what it all means. I will try to have that discussion tomorrow, of course, but my take on the comparison of The Odyssey and The Bible is from a Bible-as-literature sort of a view. There is a difference between looking at The Bible as literature and looking at it as scripture. As an English teacher, I'm making literary connections, not religious ones. Oh well, I'm sure they will all go home tonight and cry to their parents about how Mrs. Cheney said The Bible isn't true. I think I feel my first phone call from an angry parent coming on.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Toddy Tavern?

Last night we were discussing the idea of naming our house. Kate has been reading Anne of Green Gables, so this idea has been on her mind lately. Every time I read an English novel, I think it would be fun to name our "estate". I love the names you find in those books--Thornfield, Pemberley, Netherfield, Howard's End, Wuthering Heights, Windy Corner, and the list goes on and on and on.

So last night we came up with a very short list of possible names for our home:

Toddy Tavern (Kate)
Lilly Lane (Emma)
Hollyhock Haven (Shannon)
Rocky Road (Brock)

Apparently we're under the collective impression that we require alliteration.

Oh, and lest you think Kate is a regular imbiber, I must explain. We have a hot buttered rum mix we make in the winter. It is made of a mixture of ice cream, butter, rum extract, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. You just add a huge spoonful of the mix to a cup of boiling water and it makes a nice hot bedtime drink. In the cold winter months, the kids like to drink one before going to bed. Brock told them that hot drinks before bed are called toddies, so the kids have been calling them toddies ever since. It's a tradition. And the tavern must be dictionary definition #2 rather than definition #1. You know, the one that says "A place for weary travelers to rest." It's really rather clever, I think. I'm almost prone to say, "From where the sun now stands, this home shall be known as 'Toddy Tavern' forever." But what would the neighbors say?

The thing is I want to explore my options a little more before the decision is made. I don't want to name my home just to change her name in a few months when we find something better. Just think how confused our house would be. I still feel guilty for doing that to our cat.

So this is where y'all come in. What are your ideas? What would make a great name for a home. Our house is a nice-sized 90 year-old red brick bungalow with a decent front porch with a swing. Our lot is nearly an acre with a long and narrow back yard. We have some huge trees, some of them dead. Our lawn is a work in progress (hence Brock's name idea), as is the back yard garden, and we are hoping to plant a small orchard over the next few years. So picture it in your mind, or remember it if you've been to visit us, and tell me what you think. What do you think makes a good name for a home?

Shall I call this post "A lesson in irony?" or "Google Claims Another Victim"

I just finished up a poetry unit with my 9th graders. For the unit assessment, each student was to create a poetry portfolio consisting of a collection of original poems as well as a collection of poems gathered from a list of approved poets I provided. For each poem, the student was to write the poetic device the poet used next to the example. One student included this poem, by the great Billy Collins.


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

And here is where I'd like to stun you all with my great teaching skills by saying the student wrote, in thick-lined red sharpie, scrawled down the entire length of the margin, the glorious word --
Sadly, this student wrote "metaphor" next the to paragraph that contained the word "metaphor". Because, I'm sure, this is the poem Google gave her when she keyed "Billy Collins metaphor" into its search bar. *sigh*