Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Everyone Is A Publisher

(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet.)

This photo was taken in May of 2011. In it, you can see my wife and I finishing our dinner at a Greek restaurant in Grapevine. At the exact moment of the photo, I'm enjoying a cup of Turkish coffee and a hookah. Nothing wrong with that.

No doubt this scene was hilarious to the student who took the photo and posted it on twitter. I heard about it a day or two later and it took me all of 3 minutes to find the above post (about all the time I could devote to the search during the day.) I have no way of knowing if the student attached to this particular post was the photographer or if this was a re-post. My keen senses had failed me (the coffee was very good.) I had no idea this photo was taken until I heard my freshmen talking about it a day or two later.

Now, suppose I had been doing a bad thing when this photo was taken, like throwing a puppy out of a window or something. Suppose that bad behavior on my part had prompted the student, who just happened to recognize me, to take the photograph. The news of the act and the evidence itself would be all over the school before I would know anything about it. The photo above was probably on Facebook before the student left the parking lot. Even if I had noticed the student in the act of taking the photo, bad me would have been unable to stop it from being published.

One lesson you can take away from this situation is this: if one student sees you do something, all of them will see you do it. If it can be seen it can be photographed. If it can be photographed it can be published. Anyone with an internet connection is a publisher. (This is not a new idea, but it is new to some teachers.)

Let's take that lesson and apply it to the rest of the internet. Suppose a teacher uses social media tools inappropriately. What, exactly, is preventing any student that can see it from re-publishing it everywhere? (Isn't our government learning that lesson with Wikileaks?) The very technology that facilitates the feared connection between "bad teachers" and students can be used to expose it. So why exactly are we afraid of teachers and students on social networks? If we close these sites off from our schools, aren't we providing the darkness in which bad actors can operate? As teachers, this is a discussion we need to have.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Scenes From The Last Days Of School

Seniors getting ready to graduate.
About a dozen people have said something to the effect of "enjoy your vacation" to me this past week. The remark is most often made in passing, with little or no time for me to correct the error. I will say here what I would have said to them given the opportunity; summer does not mean no work, it means different work. This mistake is an easy one for an observer to make, considering the overall mood in the building at the end of the year.

Graduation, right before we process in.
For the seniors, this is a time of celebration and transition. They are moving on from one part of their lives to another. Summer is the gap between those two parts. Everyone else is moving up. Juniors are now seniors, sophomores are now juniors, you get the idea.

Senior exams were the week preceding graduation, and their last mandatory day of class was the Thursday before that. On Friday they are robed. Graduation takes place over the weekend before underclassmen exams. On Saturday they celebrate mass as seniors for the last time. And on Sunday they walk across a stage and on with their lives. 

The next week the building is seems empty. It does not take as long to get to class. The noise level drops, but just for a little while. Lockers start to empty as the library fills up with anxious underclassmen getting ready for their final exams.
Students prepare for their chemistry exam on my whiteboard.
One of my juniors exalted after finishing her review.
During exam week the halls are at their quietest. Teachers are stationed at every intersection. Trash cans are spaced along the hallways in anticipation of locker's being emptied. The buzz in the building is audible by the end of the week. By Thursday some of the students are finished, and the school seems even emptier.

Around this time, each teacher is given a list of things to accomplish before end of school.
  • Clear off bulletin boards - check
  • Empty desk - check
  • Turn in department materials - check
  • Turn in grades - check
My classroom, sans my stuff.
The list always feels like a scavenger-hunt because you have to get signatures for each category and some of those people can be hard to find. The result is that as the week progresses, students take their tests in ever emptying classrooms so that by Friday they are staring at bare walls and empty shelves. This is a change almost all of them will comment on.

Lockers in D Hall, sans student's stuff
By Friday things start to give. Notebooks that were cherished sources of information just the day before are discarded or left under the desks where their exams were taken. Mischief makers try to get in one last shot before summer. (Just before the last exam a stink bomb was set off outside down the hall from my classroom.)

At noon you can hear cheering and even applause from the students (and some teachers). By three, the building is all but devoid of students. It's for an observer to confuse the mood of the students with that of the teachers. After all, almost everyone is smiling. The students are looking forward to their break, the teachers are looking forward to a change of pace, but not a two-month vacation.
Unclaimed student work.

For the school itself, summer break is a time for recovery. When roughly a thousand people move around a building with a purpose every day, recovery time is necessary. Floors need to be refinished, walls painted, desks fixed, and AC units cleaned out. This is a time for long-term repairs, for things you can't do with students in the building. (I have some idea, I spent two summers working maintenance with UD Facilities.)

The same holds true for teachers. The summer is a time for work best done when students are not around. This is the time we tweak our lessons or create new ones. It it a time for frank discussions with other teachers, either at a conference, a workshop, or over a drink. Summer is a time to learn new things and to teach other teachers. This is the time when we hand-off classes we used to teach and take on new ones.

Summer is also the time that we, like our school, take time to recover. And it is here that I think the observer can be confused. 
Economics stuff...oh boy.
The last days of school are often the hardest for both teachers and students. We grade our finals with as much apprehension as the students who took them. Before the building is even empty, we have to calm anxious students and parents. We console those who didn't make it, and congratulate those who did. We pack up our classrooms and turn in our paperwork. We say goodbye to our students. Some of them we will teach again, some not. Then we say goodbye to departing colleagues. Who wouldn't look forward to a drink after that? It gets to the point when the light goes on for the last time and the students clear out, everyone is glad it's over. Everyone is looking forward to the summer, but toward different ends.

It's easy to confuse the two.

Hey, I follow the rules.
Enjoy your summer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Visual Component

It's the end of the year, so I'm in the process of closing down my classroom websites. I need to package up the sociology site in particular because I will be sharing it with two other instructors. As part of that process, I downloaded the photos used in each site. Having done that, and having a few moments to myself, I decided to play around. This is what I came up with, and it got me thinking.

These are all the photos used in sociology lectures this year. (246 total)
These are the photos I used in US History lectures this year. (886 total)
One of the things they impress upon us is the need to stimulate students in our classrooms. The visual component is a large part of that. We are, after all, competing with an already stimulating media environment for the attention of our students. I look at these two images and I wonder if I'm over-stimulating. The other day one of my students said something to the effect of "being loudest does not mean you win." This was in the context of a lunchtime debate with another student, but looking at these images, you might say the same thing about my class. We need to do more than throw visual stimulation in the mix. We need to do more than say "this will be on the test" to hold their attention.

I set out to earn the attention of my students. I know that by earning their attention what we teach them will be as persistent as quotes from movies they memorize and the songs they know by heart. But I look at this, and I don't know if that's what I've been doing.

Something to think about.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Will Miss This Class

Robing* starts in just an hour or so, and I just came across something that reminded me just how much I am going to miss this class. But first a little background.

A few months ago someone, um...absconded with my phone. I had left it in a classroom after a meeting and when I came back, it was gone. I told the students that I wanted it back and that I was willing to pay for it, no questions asked. (It was the content of the phone that I wanted back, not necessarily the hardware.) I figured it was either a joke or the person did not know the phone belonged to a teacher. After a day, it came back. (It was left in a place where a teacher would find it.) A cell phone is probably the most personal of possessions to a person of my generation. Had my wallet disappeared, I would have been less upset than I was over my phone. (It is from this perspective that I treat my student's phones. Should I confiscate one, they know I will never search it. I have even allowed them to lock it before I take custody of phones.)

This is how I felt, as interpreted by AV
When I got home, I did a search for my name on twitter, trying to see if it was a joke. This is what I found. It was sent out by a senior girl whom I had taught before.
I must say, it made me smile.

There are plenty of reasons, and I may write more later, this is just the one.

Class of 2012, you will be missed.

*Robing, as far as I can tell, is unique to Nolan. (Probably not, just never heard of it elsewhere, so don't yell at me) I'll write something about it later.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Real Names

A few weeks ago I wrote a post that looked at some of the more interesting ways our students use twitter. I still keep tabs on those twitter accounts as well as a few other "joke" accounts that have come to my attention. I stumbled into this exchange between one such account and a senior at my school.

Had the account in question not replied to the student's comment, I would have missed it. The student (not one of mine) has expressed perfectly what we should be teaching our students. Anonymity is a powerful thing to bestow on a teenager. I remind my students that we are not, skirt-length rules to the contrary, living in Iran. There are times when anonymity is appropriate and even necessary in this country. Satirically sniping at the senior class is one thing, being a jerk to specific people is something else.

I'm proud that our students realize that as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lemon Drop

Just wait. It will come to you.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Above: Lent to me for a photo, I had to give them back.
A student (one of mine) filled his girlfriend's locker with plastic balls. The kind you might find in a ball pit. (a bit in the spirit of ECM) She opened it in the middle of a passing period this morning, spilling approximately 150 multicolored plastic distractions into C hall. The shenanigans that ensued are easy to picture. I am informed by that a bag of 250 of these projectiles can be had for $20. He handed off the remaining 100 or so to another student. I expect another deployment in the near future.

It is a big enough amusement to excite the students but not big enough to annoy the front office. After a short ball-fight (their word not mine) the spheres disappeared from the hall. Most of my students had at least one with them for the rest of the day. I had one student attempt to juggle, two boys bouncing them off the walls and ceiling, and several students tapping them rhythmically on their desks at various times of the day. The greatest concentration was in homeroom...

(I am not a talented photo editor, but you get the idea.) We did two photos, one where the students were as expressionless as possible, another where they made the creepiest smile they could manage. Shame you can't see them. (Got to follow the rules.)

When that second deployment occurs, I'll let you know.


Today is the last mandatory class day for seniors. (They have an optional review day tomorrow and finals next week.) I can think of a few images (or videos) to remember this year's seniors, but this will have to do. I found this while digging through old photos. (Old? he graduated last year!) It made  me happy that someone who would wear this was about to graduate from my school. He was remarkable in other ways to other teachers, but I will remember him like this.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

You! Detention!

We have rules. Students break rules, students get caught, students serve detention, students break the rules again. The cycle continues. This time it was AV, who's work is featured here regularly, who got caught. She served her detention, then showed me what she did with the slip. Below is a screen shot of her blog on  Tumblr. [Disclaimer: The student brought up this post on a school computer, and Tumblr isn't on the block list. (yet)]

Above: One of her gifs.
Insubordination? Wilfulness? Nah. I like it when students vent creatively. (As opposed to just whining.) She didn't burn it on school property in case you were wondering. (Or if you wanted to report her to the office!) She served her detention promptly, made her gifs and moved on.

I wish for more students like her.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Faculty Talent Show

This is a fundraiser one of the drama teachers has put together for the last few years. I never understood how they convinced faculty to participate until I was informed that two teachers prowl the audience to prevent students from filming it. (Broadcast is also prohibited from filming it.) I won't be able to attend, but I am contributing. I will have to thank whoever constructed this flier for my nickname...

Slapped By The Invisible Hand

It's official. (Or as official as it gets before contract time anyway!) I will be teaching economics and AP macroeconomics next year. My summer just got busier.

Just got the textbook for regular econ today. Haven't see the AP book yet.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Super Dave!

Disregard if you didn't go to UD.

So, this showed up at the house today....Brilliant? It certainly brings back memories.  

Boys Like War

Fun Fact: Boys did better than girls (way better) on my World War II test. These were the highest grades I had seen from some of these students all year. I brought this up with each class the only people who were surprised were the girls. One student told me he was able to remember Normandy was in France because of the D-Day scene in the film Saving Private Ryan. (At the end of the scene, one of the characters fills a tobacco tin labeled "France" with dirt.) I'm sure there were just at many other examples of boys drawing on memories of viewing war films over and over. Interesting.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Be Advised.

In order to be in compliance with diocese social media policy, several posts on this site have been redacted or removed. In addition, several video projects have been taken down. Be aware that certain links to this site or others may no longer work. I apologize.

Furthermore, I am required by the same policy to express the following "in at least 12 size font bolded":

The views expressed on this website/weblog/social network are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Did You Become A Teacher?

I get that question a lot. And whether it's family, friends, students, or other teachers, I always struggle with the answer. There are several reasons for this. Most often the question is asked casually. It's hard for me to answer in the spirit which the question was asked. This is not a casual subject for me. I always suffer a flash of resentment when asked about this subject in that manner. It's like asking me "why did you marry your wife?" If you don't know, it's probably none of your business. That is not a question you ask in passing. I also know that the link between those two decisions, the one to become a teacher and the one to get married, are equally personal to me, they do not appear that way to an observer. My employer has every right to ask me why I became a teacher. My students have every right to do likewise. I still don't like the question. It's like explaining to someone why I married the woman I did. Even if I know you, even if the person who asked me is a friend, the answer is hard to put into words. So I thought I might try using pictures.

The effect will be the same regardless. If you don't know me, if you don't have the context, these images will mean nothing more than the words I would have used in their place, if I bothered to answer you at all. If you know me, you already know at least some of the answer. And if you're curious?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Angie V is not first student to draw something for me. Claire Behan drew this for me sometime in 2008 or 2009. I didn't feel right until I dug this out and put it up here.