I’ve been largely out of action here this week, because I have been on my annual personal personal pilgrimage attempting to scale Mt Marking.
You may not have heard of Mt Marking. It is a steep and imposing mountain, located right near Mt Grading and Mt Evaluation in the End-Of-Year Reporting Ranges. It is difficult to climb, and can quickly turn into a slippery slope if one does not pay attention to one’s preparation, time management, and self-discipline.
After several very long and arduous days, I have made it about half-way up. It is getting somewhat harder to breathe, and it is exhausting, yet I must persist. I find myself relying more and more on coffee and, while I have been careful about nutrition in past weeks, I find now that I need to supplement my diet with chocolate to keep my strength and attention at sustainable levels.
And when Miley Cyrus sang that “it ain’t about how fast I get there” and “it ain’t about what’s on the other side”, it was not Mt Marking she was climbing. There are deadlines, after all, and the dangerous, rapidly-flowing Reporting River is what awaits on the other side, with the broad and intimidating Planning For Next Year Wilderness beyond that.
I will be able to see it all once I stand triumphantly on top of Mt Marking. On a clear day, you can see almost all the way to the end of the term.
Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.
One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’.
Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher.
“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”
“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”
“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”
“You know Shakespeare did it?”
“Verbing. He did it all the time.”
“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.”
“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too.
It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language.
It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong.
My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”.
This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red.
My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean.
The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination.
The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.
Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language.
Today my students investigated the words and phrases coined by Shakespeare.
I started by giving them a list of the words and asking them to highlight which ones they knew and used. This really engaged them, and it was great to see their motivation change as they realised that Shakespeare’s language isn’t all lofty poetry and words that finish in -eth.
I followed that up with some great videos and a website resource to extend their knowledge and reinforce their learning.
An unexpected bonus for me was the overall positive response to the exit quiz I made for the end of the lesson.
Of course, it wasn’t all enthusiastic. I’ve been teaching Year 9 English for long enough to know not all kids are going to respond positively, so I do at least try to make my quizzes fair so that they can express their feelings honestly, and kind of fun so that they actually want to do them.
They know there is no obligation to respond in a way that will make me feel good, and I know my students, so I’m confident that these responses are an accurate reflection of attitudes throughout the group.
Wait, what? Boring?
Thankfully, the next set of responses explained that. The 26% who found the videos boring are probably the ones who preferred the website based resource instead. That’s a relief!
There was a surprise waiting for me, though.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know there was an option 7. I must have accidentally hit ‘return’ while making the quiz on Google Forms. I don’t know if Option 7 was perceived to be better or worse than ‘boring’. I’m telling myself that since they could choose multiple options, Option 7 was checked by those with a good sense of humour.
This was the closest I got to asking the students to identify themselves. If they don’t have to tell me their names, they are more likely to give honest responses. I’m not-so-secretly excited that so many of them identify as dragons.
If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher.
Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love.
The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Treasure Island’. My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’.
Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.
If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you.Leave a comment and inspire me!
Even though I am, like every other teacher, exhausted and keen for that bell to ring at the end of the day, I am still trying desperately to keep the kids on task and get things finished before then.
The problem is, they’ve already checked out. They just don’t care. They’re restless. They’re talkative. They’re twitchy. Their eyes have glazed over with the promise of freedom, of late sleep-ins and no school uniforms or restrictions on their social media life for the next two weeks.
If you’ve ever watched a squirrel running around in a park or a forest, that is the precise image of the mental and emotional engagement in my classroom today. One or two are evolving into chipmunks as I watch.
Except for that one kid at the back, who is working like a champion to get everything completed. I don’t have favourites, but today I really love that kid.
We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks, and rightly so. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a segregated bus sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
The very bus on which she rode is in the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, commemorating her actions and their importance in the history of the nation.
Have you, though, heard of Claudette Colvin? Probably not. But you should have.
Nine months before Rosa Parks’ defiant actions, fifteen year old Claudette Colvin was riding a segregated bus home from school in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to give her seat up for a white woman.
Colvin was arrested and tried in juvenile court for her defiance. Her mother discouraged her from speaking publicly about her actions, preferring to let Rosa Parks take the spotlight.
I have to wonder, though: just how much did Claudette Colvin inspire Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat? And why aren’t we taught with equal admiration about this brave young woman who made her stand by remaining seated?
I am sure of one thing, though: I will be including Claudette Colvin in my lessons on the Civil Rights Movement from now on. My fifteen year old students need to know that nobody is too young to change the world for the better.
“Happy International Wormn’s Day!” one of my students announced as I walked into the classroom today.
“Ha!” said one of the boys. “How come women get a special day?
“Are you serious?” another girl challenged him.
“Yeah,” he said, “when is it men’s day?”
The girl who had welcomed me rolled her eyes. “Every day is men’s day!”
It seems like a lighthearted story. You could just laugh and keep doing whatever you were doing and not think any more about it.
Still, there are deeper issues here that I felt the need to address.
These are teenagers. Without quizzing them to find out where they stand individually, some generalized conclusions can be drawn.
The girls are aware enough to know that inequality still exists, but have been raised in a generation that knows we can demand better treatment than what those who have gone before have experienced.
The boys are less understanding of the issues that still exist.. there are probably as many reasons why as there are boys present in the room.
So, we had a discussion about recognising and addressing inequality— of various types, about mistakes of the past and not perpetuating them, and about our concepts of respect, acceptance and difference.
Obviously, we didn’t manage to solve all the problems of the world during that lesson. We did, however, leave with the girls feeling both acknowledged and respected, and everyone more aware of the importance of treating one another as equals, regardless of what types of differences exist between us.
As a Humanities teacher, that made for a happy International Women’s Day indeed.
Today I returned to work for the first time after my surgery. As I left home this morning, I told my husband that I was mostly confident and a little bit afraid.
As it turned out, there was no need for fear and my day went pretty well.
I only had to stop once each way to take a walk and stretch as a break between driving.
I cleared/responded to 93 emails from my inbox that were not messages I could just delete. I also sent a bunch of emails chasing students for work they hadn’t bothered to hand in while I was away. Some of them actually responded by submitting their work!
Very conscious of keeping my spine healthy by not sitting for too long, and still really only comfortable sitting for about fifteen minutes at a time, I completed all my email and admin tasks using my fancy standing desk, located right behind my regular desk. All I have to do is stand up and turn around.
I also stood while I taught my classes, as I often do anyway.
I know my students were happy to see me because they all asked me not to cough in class again, please. I shrugged and commented, “I have more discs” but they didn’t seem to think that was funny. It was, though, because the one kid with a sense of humour as subversive as mine laughed out loud.
With a strange sense of deja vu, I told the kid who always sniffles to blow his nose, and told the kid who chews with his mouth open to chew with his lips together. On both occasions, all I had to do was say their name. It was almost as though they knew!
I entertained Year 9 with puns. It was just like old times.
I sorted the exams, papers and assignments I have to grade into neat bundles. I plan to start on those tomorrow and hopefullly finish them by the end of the week. It was good to get things organised and leave my desk tidy again so I can make a good start in the morning.
By the time I got home, I was all worn out like a Norwegian Blue parrot after a long squawk, so I embraced my bed and had a lovely little nap for a couple of hours.
Ovetall, my first day back on the job gets a thumbs up.
The classroom was quiet although full of students; the only sounds were made by a page turning, someone typing, or the occasional movement of a foot on the carpet as students worked individually on the task that had been set for them.
One boy sniffed noisily. I glanced at him, but he was too focused on his work to make eye contact with me. At the back of the room, another boy sniffed, gaining more traction so that his friend had done. I could almost feel the lump of whatever that was in my throat, and my stomach lurched. The boy at the front of the room sniffed again.
“Okay, guys… the sniffing has to stop. Did you know they make these squares of fabric called handkerchiefs, that you can use to clear your nose? They even make disposable ones, called tissues, so you don’t have to deal with them or their contents again later.”
“Sorry, Mrs V,” said the young man at the front desk, looking suitably repentant.
“Wait!” said another young fellow. “A tissue is a disposable hanky?”
“Well, yes.” I grinned at the obvious surprise on his face.
“I’ve never thought of it that way before!” Caught in the spell of his ‘penny drop’ moment, his eyes were wide and his smile was one of discovery and wonder.
“So, it’s your mind that has been blown, not your nose?”
He nodded, laughing along with his classmates, then returned to his work as industry and silence once again took custody of the classroom.
I really enjoy teaching these kids. They’re pretty great.
And they seem to genuinely appreciate the fact that I am a comic genius.