Monday, December 23, 2013

Just Finished Marking Exams

Normally I would take the time to write part 3 of the PISA series but frankly, I'm tired.

Since last Monday, I have graded:

65 thesis essays
40 tests
12 blog entries
117 exams all with short answers/essays attached to them.

I can do my research for later but I wanted to share how I feel right now.

Yes, my face does look like that. I'll be back after Christmas with my part 3 of the PISA.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Part 2 of 4: What Does the PISA Report Tell Us About U.S. Education?

So the other day I decided to tackle the myths that surround education after the results of the PISA came out. There were five major myths that come from this and I tackled one of them in the previous post. (You can read that post here).

Today I wanted to tackle a second myth. Sadly, I cannot do two because I do not have time to do two.

Myth #2: The US has bad teachers

I really hate it when people say this. Usually it is parents who think their child is a little angel and that it must be the teacher's fault that their child is not learning. (hint: Most of the time it is because the child is lazy and doesn't do what they are supposed to at unless I'm following the child home there isn't much I can do about it).

Personal feelings aside, the whole "Fire Bad Teachers!!!!" rant only applies to a small percentage of teachers. However, this very powerful emotion makes many people assume that only 1% of teachers are good with the rest being horrible when in reality, you should flip those numbers.

Most of the time, people scream about this due to test scores; the student's test scores didn't improve or the class average was lower then last year.

The sheer stupidity of this amazes me. Let's take my three sophomore classes I have.

The class average of the most recent paper were:

No, I did not teach the material any differently. It is the make up of students. If those were their standardized test scores, I would have been yelled at my second year and then praised this year. Chances are, the percentage would go down the following year and I would again get yelled at (or it could stay the same which shows I'm "not improving"). Either way it is dumb. My students change every single year. No one student is like the other. You can't expect the same test score from each student when you have other factors to consider (poverty rate, emotional status, hell, if they got enough sleep). There are so many variables that basing a teacher's "goodness" or "badness" off test scores is total crap.

The other reason that the myth is crap is because of this chart.

How can we constantly have "bad" teachers when ALL teachers need a degree of some sort? Especially when about 50% of those teaching school aged children (aka those not in preschool or kindergarten) have Master's degrees or higher?

Not only that, but it has been proven that students score better on tests when their teacher has a Master's degree Yes, I hate using standardized tests as an argument because, well I'm not fond of standardized tests, but I might as well since the opposing side only uses them as their argument. Might as well use their numbers against them.

Not only are teacher's getting advanced degrees which help students, they are also required to go through teaching certification process. This usually means getting a degree (either undergrad or grad) in education from an accredited university and having student taught which means they have to successfully prove themselves as teachers before they can get their certification.

None of this is an easy. 

For example, PA has the following requirements in order to get a certification:

  1. Hold a Bachelor's Degree: Baccalaureate degree awarded (either prior to admission to the program or as part of the program) or for vocational subject areas, two years of full-time wage earning experience in the area of the certificate requested.
  2. Completion of an approved program of study leading to certification in the area of certificate requested:
    • State-approved teacher education program completion, including a supervised student teaching experience, leading to a comparable certificate.
    • Affirmation/recommendation of successful completion from the certification officer at the college/university/educational entity on an application form designated by the Bureau or through the Teacher Information Management System (TIMS) for provisioned users in TIMS.
    • For active/valid out-of-state instructional certificate holders, with two (2) years of successful classroom experience, program verification will not be needed. A copy of your certificate and verification of the two years of experience will be required.
  3. Hold a 3.0 Grade Point Average (GPA): A 3.0 overall cumulative GPA as noted on Bachelor's or Master's transcript is required for an initial certificate in Pennsylvania. Active/valid out-of-state instructional certificate holders, with two (2) years of successful classroom experience will not be evaluated for the 3.0 GPA requirement.

    The cumulative GPA must be indicated on the college transcript. If it is not indicated on the college transcript, the overall GPA may be supplied in a letter from the college or university for out-of-state applicants. For applicants completing their program through a Pennsylvania entity approved to offer the program, the affirmation/verification should be completed through TIMS.
NOTE: All references to a GPA are relative to a 4.0 scale. Applicants with credits on other scales must have the equivalent GPA.
Please refer to Certification Testing and Scores for further information on GPA.
A list of frequently asked questions regarding the GPA-Praxis testing requirements can be found under Commonly Asked Questions.
  1. Successful completion of Pennsylvania required tests: All candidates for certification must meet the qualifying score for all applicable tests at the time their application for certification is received by the Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality. The required tests and qualifying scores may change as tests are reviewed and updated. Additional information regarding test score validity may be found in CSPG 21 - Testing.
Identify the certificate type in which you are interested and then refer to the Testing Requirements by Certificate Type document to identify tests needed.
NOTE:  Active/valid out-of-state instructional certificate holders, with two (2) years of successful classroom experience do not need to take the pre-professional skills test (PAPA), but must complete the content area test for the certification area requested.
Test codes, vendors and cut scores required for certification can be found on theCertification Testing and Scores document.
  1. Meet all Pennsylvania requirements related to citizenship, moral, ethical and physical/mental fitness.
You can find more information here (and yes I could talk about the 3.0 and grade inflation but then this post would be much longer than it already is)

Not only do you need this certification, you need this certification for any school you intend to teach in regardless of it is public or private. (if you want to see your state's requirements, click here)

Each state has requirements that are similar to this. These are not easy requirements to meet. Most of the time, they weed out the "bad" teachers especially the student teaching part. Do some bad teachers become teachers? Yes. But I bet you have encountered bad doctors that you think should be fired that haven't yet. 

It happens in every profession. You will never have 100% amazing teachers. However, that doesn't mean that if you encounter one teacher it means they are all bad.

Oh, and for the record, "tenure" isn't the devil here. It doesn't mean a teacher can't get fired. It just means that if they want to fire you, they actually have to have reasons and proof not just a bunch of parents and students complaining the teacher is horrible because the student earned a bad grade. If you think your child has a bad teacher, get proof and once you have proof something can actually be done about it.

Now sadly, I have procrastinated long enough in grading these freshmen exams. More to come in this series after I'm done with grades.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What Does the PISA Report Tell Us About U.S. Education? Part 1 of 4

With exams finishing up and break fast approaching, I finally have time to breathe for a moment and actually discuss the PISA results.

PISA stands for Programme for International Student Assessment (yes, the British version of the word "program") which tests 15 year-old students in reading, writing, and math every three years. The first test was given in 2000 and it scores and ranks roughly 30 countries in these categories. As you may guess, the USA has never been at the top nor have we been at the bottom. Our students score "average" and have been every year. We are at the bottom of the "developed" countries which doesn't make us look good at all.

Test like the PISA are used in the United States to cry out for action to change things by using the same methods we used last time because it has to work eventually!

I wish I was kidding.

This year, Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, decided to use these test scores as proof that we need the Common Core standards and evaluations. The evaluation side of this is eerie similar to the ones No Child Left Behind (NCLB) or Race to the Top (RT) implemented. Standardized tests run by publishing and testing companies that, unless you are white and middle to upper middle class, you will struggle with passing.

The PISA has also caused people who know nothing about teaching to come up with ideas that have been tired since 2000 and obviously haven't done jack since our scores have been roughly the same.

Instead of me breaking down the PISA into numbers and facts which, face it, will take the English teacher way too many hours to do, I have linked a video below put together by American Federation of Teachers (AFT). It is a great 5 minute video and not a waste of time if you actually care about education.

If you didn't actually watch the video because you are like my students and would hope I would summarize it for you, you are actually in luck. Below are the 5 things people claim after seeing this report.

  1. US student performance is dropping
  2. US spends the most on education
  3. Teachers are overpaid for the amount of work they do
  4. The US does not have good teachers
  5. Teachers unions are evil

I actually want to dive deeper into some of these reasons beyond what the video provides which is why I'm splitting up my posts. Over the next week or two, I'll actually do some research on some of these things beyond what the video does and since some I'm a little more passionate about, I'm not doing the reasons in order. So below is the order I'll be handling it with the myths I find the most annoying for last.

  1. Teacher unions are evil
  2. The US does not have good teachers
  3. US spends the most on education
  4. US student performance is dropping
  5. Teachers are overpaid for the amount of work they do

Myth #1: Teacher unions are evil

To be honest, I do not have much experience with teacher unions. I work in a private school that is in a right-to-work state so there isn't even a union at my school. However, we talked about teacher unions at length during my undergrad program and currently in my grad program (which is filled with teachers that are in unions). I frankly do not have time to do the research required to give you facts that come from other locations besides anti-union politicians and the actual unions themselves. So what I'll give you is my opinion.

Teacher unions are not "evil." The reason why they exist is because people who have zero experience with education think they can run education. Some of these people do so with the best intentions while others seem to just hate teachers (which to me says they had to have been a bad student who thought they were the best thing since sliced bread but in reality weren't but that's another story). If teachers unions weren't there fighting against the NCLB or RT evaluations, we would be even worse off then where we currently are. If you want to stop fighting teacher unions, give education back to the people who know what they are doing. 

"But it is my children so I should have a say!"

Yes, a say. You can voice your ideas and opinions. Teachers work better when parents do this and teachers are able to actually work with the parents. The problem comes in when the "say" becomes the "law." You don't know what you're doing when it comes to teaching. Maybe parenting, but not teaching. So yes, you can give your opinions but when teachers explain why something won't work or fight against the horrible idea, don't sit there and think the teacher is wrong. They have the degree. You don't. You can't always be right.

Teacher unions are only perceived to be "evil" because they have to fight for their rights. Stop treating teachers as sub par and maybe the "power" that teachers unions want/have won't be as high.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to "Relax" While Grading

I am currently the only experienced teacher for two of the three grade levels I teach. Due to this, I get asked a lot of questions about curriculum,  classroom management, and anything else you can think of. I don't mind it at all because it allows me to reflect on my own teaching in a way I never would have before.

I am a third year teacher so I am still fairly new at the whole teaching profession. This year, however, I feel like I have aged ten years since I'm the "experienced" teacher.

Recently,  the biggest question that has been asked of me has been "How do you not lose it while grading exams?"

Our students all have short answer questions where they must answer each question in two paragraphs or more. If you know anything about teaching high school English, you know this can be a very disheartening process due to the utter crap we sometimes get. It becomes very hard not to go crazy.

In the past, I jokingly said "alcohol" to this question. This year, I say it and mean it to the point that I scheduled a "grading party" at the local bar where we sometimes go for after work drinks.

Now, before you jump down my throat,  I'm not advocating being drunk for grading or even having a slight buzz. I'm advocating getting out of the classroom and grading with friends in an atmosphere where you feel relaxed and at ease. You grade better in those conditions.

The four teachers went out and we graded. No, we did not grade as many papers as we would have alone and at school but guess what. At the end of it, we were more relaxed and willing to grade more when we got home then of we had graded alone at school.

Sometimes all it takes is a change of atmosphere to make one of the worst parts of our jobs enjoyable. So the next time you see teachers grading in the bar, don't be offended.  Understand that they need the break from school but can only do so if they grade.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Dangers of Grade Inflation: Not Everyone is Special

Courtesy of Washington Post: Know More

(note: this chart refers to colleges but I promise the same trend is happening in primary and secondary schooling)

According to my school this is what each letter grade stands for:
"A" = Excellent
"B" = Above Average
"C" = Average
"D" = Below Average
"F" = Failing

If "C" is average, shouldn't the majority of students be earning this grade?

The fact that 40% of college students earn "A's" or better worries me. Maybe our students are getting smarter. If they are, shouldn't our schools get more difficult? "A" stands for "excellent." If almost half of our students are "excellent" doesn't that make them almost "average"?

This is the problem with grade inflation. Schools want to claim that their average graduation rate is above a 3.0 so many programs make it so that if you don't get a "B" or better in the class, you can't "pass" the class (this was true of my program). That virtually makes my GPA useless. If you're going to do that, then why claim that a "C" is "average"? Not everyone can be special.

The mentality of "A's" and "B's" being the only acceptable grades is not unique to colleges. I have had students say to me "Man did I fail that test." The apparent "fail" was a grade within the 70's or 80's. I tell them "No, you didn't fail. You just didn't do as well as you wanted to. But you did not fail." Without fail, the response is "Yeah, but you try telling that to my parents."

Parents demand perfection. When their children earn less than an "A" they ask me "What can my child do to earn an 'A'?" I can't just come out and say to them "You're child isn't this amazing student when it comes to English. They are a good person but they aren't going to get an 'A' unless they cheat." It is the facts of life. Not everyone can get an "A" but every parent expects that.

This is attached to the mentality that you should get a trophy for participating because "everyone is a winner." Everyone is a winner, but not everyone is a winner at baseball. Everyone is gifted, but not everyone is gifted in English. We have to stop assuming every child can get an "A" in every single subject. We should start admiring their efforts they put into the grades they do receive and take pride in what they are gifted in. So what if your child can't get an "A" in English? If they worked their butt off and earned a "C" you, as a parent, should be proud. If they are amazing at skateboarding, you should be proud of them for that. If they are amazing at scrap-booking, be proud of them for that. Be proud of them for what they can do, not critical of what they can't.

To fix the obvious issue of grade inflation that the chart above shows, we need to fix our mentality about students. Not everyone is the same. Not everyone can achieve the same goals. We should be proud of our students for what they work hard for. This will take stress of students and allow the world to grow because they will be able to actually focus on what they can do not what they can't.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Will Not "Get Used to It"

A year ago today 20 young children and six educators lost their lives in a random act of violence. Not only did Sandy Hook effect everyone glued to their TVs but it also impacted every single school in America.

My school decided to have lock down drills and we had meetings on what we as teachers should do if a gunman comes into the buliding.

I have said this 100 times before and I will say it 100 times again: something needs to change because "protector from gunman" should not be in my job description.

Don't get me wrong;  I like to think I would take a bullet for my kids (you never know until you're in the situation) but why do I have to prepare for that?

When I say this to people they respond with something along the lines of "Well that's the world we live in. You just have to get used to it."

You want me to get used to having to deal with random violence? You want my kids have to get used to that?

What type of monster are you?

Violence is something no person should ever have to "get used to." Schools are supposed to be safe. Not filled with lock down drills or armed guards on the property. I've just described a prison.

I don't have the answers or the solution to this problem. All I know is what is currently happening isn't working.  My kids shouldn't be afraid of being shot going to school. They shouldn't have to "get used to it" and I'm sure the teachers at Sandy Hook would agree with me.

Remember the 26 adults and children that lost their lives due to the mentality of "get used to it" and don't let people use that as an excuse for maintaining the status quo.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Puppies in Birthday Hats

I have had a long day. It is Friday. I have last period planning. I do not feel like grading at this current moment. Exams are next week so my students are stressed. Perfect time for something to laugh about.

Enjoy my friend's dogs celebrating a doggie birthday. This picture is my go to picture for a smile and a laugh.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Open Letter to Those Who Think They Are More Important Since They Don't Get Snow Days

The past two days have been snow days with today being a two hour delay start. A lot of my friends on Facebook are teachers but some are not. A few of these non educators posted a passive aggressive status along the line of "Geeze I wish I had a job that got off for snow. Oh well. Off to work I go."

This is an open letter to them.

Dear person who thinks they are more important because you don't get snow days:

I get it. You see me rejoicing over getting off from school due to snow. Granted, I do not think it was enough snow to warrant a day off but I got it anyway. You have to go to work and suffer as I sit at home. Most likely you think I'm sitting on my butt doing nothing but watching TV and vegging out. If that was true, you would totally have the right to think you are more important than me.

Here is the thing though, over the last two days I wrote exams, graded papers, and planned units. Yes, I did it in front of my TV but that is not different from when my Dad was writing communication contracts from home with ESPN on in the background. Yes, I may have been in sweatpants but I promise you, I was working just as hard, if not harder, then you were.

Remember when you were a kid and you loooooved snow days because you didn't have to go to school and got to play video games instead? You may think teachers love snow days for the same reason but again, you would be wrong.

Teachers love snow days for two reasons. The first is that we get a break from students. The constant patience needed to deal with students when they don't "get it", "what if" questions, crazy students, and parents emailing you doesn't happen. You get a break from the most stressful aspect of your job. This break from this stress leads to the second reason teachers love snow days; time. We finally have time to do all the things our jobs require of us besides the actual teaching part. We can grade and plan with no disruptions.

We work the entire day. When you take the day off, do you work? Chances are no. Teachers work on every single day we have off. Sick days, personal days, vacation days. and snow days. Every vacation we go on during the course of the school year, we bring work to do.

So yes, I and other teachers get overly excited because of snow days. Not because we get a day off from work but because we get a day to do work. So next time you think you're more important because you don't get time off due to snow, remember that teachers are not actually enjoying the day to relax. We are enjoying it to work.

An Overworked Teacher

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bullied or Not?

The issue of bullying has been in the news so much the past few years. Laws have even been passed because of it.

I'm all for stopping bullying but my question becomes when do these laws and sensitivity go too far?

On Friday I had two issues of students complaining about bullying. One kid has constantly been picked on and snapped by calling another kid a "mother fu××er" in front of me. I have written up this kids bulliers for tormenting him and have defended him. The kids that pick on him do so because they like to get a kick out of him suffering.

That is clear bullying because the kid that is being bullied is obviously frustrated and doesn't like it. I do everything in my power to stop it.

Then we come to issue of another student in another class. This student is sometimes teased but the student always teases back. He laughs at himself and pokes fun at others. Apparently, the teasing bothers another student that sits there him. So much so that this student felt the need to say something to me about it.

This is where we cross into a gray area. The student being teased seems to be able to not only handle it but dish it out. So unless students are laughing at him about other stuff that I don't see, I'm not really sure this is bullying.

On the flip side, the kid being teased could be hiding how much it hurts. Then it would be bullying. But the kid might not tell me. So should I do something about it? If I do and I'm over reacting that's horrible. But if I do nothing and this kid is bothered by it then I'm horrible for doing nothing.

People will say take the "safe" route and write up the kids that are doing the teasing. But what if it is just innocent teasing? I'm then going to ruin the kids reputation by labeling them as a bully.

It is a hard situation to be in as a teacher. I know that when I was bullied, I never said anything but I was never able to dish it back to my attackers. I would just put my head down. It infuriated me that my teachers didn't notice my obvious downtrodden mood. Which is why I loom for that. This student doesn't seem downtrodden or depressed or angry. So is he being bullied?

If he doesn't think he is but other people say he is, should I do something?

This is the part of my job that I hate.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Today was the type of day where I was struggling to figure out why I do this job.

I had planning first period today and didn't get anything done that I wanted to because I had to meet with another teacher. What should have taken 5 minutes turned into 30 so I ended up wasting almost my entire planning period.

Not only that but my students are slowly going stir crazy which means they are starting to bounce off the walls in class. Not only that, but I caught a student cheating today as well as another one misusing their computer (we are a 1-to-1 school). So I had to write two detentions.

I had 30 emails in my inbox from various people. Most from parents that have seemed to have only recently discovered our online grade book with live grading. They are suddenly wondering why their child is failing when they could see all the missing homework assignments. The others are from students that are realizing that their interim grade will get them in trouble (grades were due this morning) so they now decide to take an interest in their academic performance.

One of these parent emails was questioning if their child really received a 13/15 on a pop quiz dealing with MLA citations. The reason they were questioning was because I had put in the directions "all or nothing." I responded back saying that when I didn't say that on the first quiz, I got total crap back (I said this in a much more professional manner don't worry) so I figured I would scare them into giving me the correct citation. Needless to say it worked because 90% of my sophomores gave me a citation that was either perfect or near perfect. I had no idea what type of response I would get back from this parent, so when I saw that he responded to me my email, I held my breath. I opened it to find this:

      Yes, thank you.  That does clear up things, if not assuage my concerns.  Couple of things, first both my wife and I support you (and the other faculty) 100% - we stand by your calls.  Secondly, I place English, specifically writing composition, as equally important as any STEM course work.  I continually find the engineers and scientist I work with needing my help putting their message on paper in a succinct and grammatically correct manner.   Also, as far as the students these days need subtle threats to get their attention, what’s up with that?  It used to work on me, but the kids these days are impervious.  All joking aside, thank you for making our children think, and we really appreciate the job you are doing.

 I had to read the email a couple of times to make sure that I had read it correctly and to let it sink in. It isn't every day that you get an email telling you that what you're doing has meaning and a purpose. Especially from a parent.

This gave me the validation I needed and reminded me that what I do does have a purpose and it isn't just about babysitting crazy kids and bowing to demands of parents. I am actually attempting to teach my students something valuable in life.

I will save this email forever so that when I need a pick me up, I can just look at it and remember.

All you parents out there, if you think your child's teacher is doing a good job, tell them. You never know how much better you can make a teacher's day with a simple five minute email.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Avoiding the Grading Induced Downing Feeling

Grading is the thing that causes all teachers to want to rip their hair out. Not only does it depress you but it also takes up a good chunk of your time. It is even worse the night before grades are do because it seems like you haven't graded anything all quarter.

Teachers don't avoid grading because they are lazy; they avoid it because they are so tired by the time they have a moment to grade, they want to de-stress.

I am not above this feeling. There are many nights I come home and don't do squat because I'm that worn out. However, I have finally figured out a system for avoiding this drowning feeling (most of the time).

Every teacher has a to-do list. The key is though to have two lists. One list is you're over all to do list; all the things you have to plan, grade, etc. This is the list most people have. The key is to add the second list which I call my "Must-Do" list.  What makes this list special is that I never put more than 10 things on it and everything on this list I have to get done on that day before I leave school. Sometimes the list has mostly small stuff like return emails. Other times it had things such as grade a class worth of papers.

There are some days where I'm done with list by mid day so I start to work on other things and I leave at 3:30. Other days I'm at work until 8pm working on my list. Either way, I feel accomplished at the end of the day and since I'm prioritizing, I don't feel like I'm drowning as often.

This is not the only way to avoid the drowning feeling but it is by far the best thing for me. Hopefully you'll be able to utilize it and stop the feeling from over coming you every week.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Laughing Instead of Going Crazy

Curiosity of Stephen Patis andPeals Before Swine
It has been a very looooong day at school and my last period planning took forever to get here.

Why was it so long you ask?

Besides the fact that my students seemed to have ingested pounds of sugar, I was grading essays during my spare minutes. The above comic pretty much sums up how I feel after grading some of these essays. Nearly every essay I want to write various comments like Cameron Diaz does in Bad Teacher. If you have never seen that movie, I have put the video of her grading short answers below (language NSFW since she drops the f-bomb once). It pretty much sums up how every teacher feels while grading. The first time I saw that scene I couldn't stop laughing for a good 5 minutes so I missed the next scene and had to rewind.

Basically, the point of this post is to give you some laughs since you're most likely on the verge of losing it and going crazy. Hopefully they help.

(Since I am an English teacher, I will say that I have not created any of these images/videos. If I know the author I will give them credit but some were just circulated on the internet so much that I'm not sure who the original author is)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Over Worked, Over Tired, and Under Paid

I have to write three exams, grade 60 essays, grade various homework assignments, and get interim grades done.

This is not due to me slacking off which makes it worse.

I decided to do the math and over the last two weeks, I've spent over 50 hours outside of school doing work related things.

What sucks is that no teacher is ever paid for this extra time spent. I could go on and on about how this isn't fair, we should be paid for, etc. But I'm not going to.

The thing that sucks almost as much as not getting paid is how tired I always am during the school year. I wake up at 5am every day and work until at least 4pm if not later. Some days I'm not home until 8pm.

This just makes me.....tired.

Trying to make this positive is near impossible.

I really don't have any encouraging words for how to spin this one into a positive light. I just know that this permanent state of exhaustion is not unique to me and I know how lonely you feel when you're in this state. So I wanted to tell the teacher that feels overly exhausted and feels like no one understands why they are so tired; you are not alone.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

How to Stay Positive While Grading the Soul Sucking Thing that is Student Essays

Beautiful and cold Sunday in December. Perfect for cuddling on the couch, in front of a fire, and watching football.

What am I doing?

Grading thesis essays.

Grading essays is the hardest part of my job. Okay well, not the hardest in terms of difficultly of doing, because, frankly, it is quite easy to sit there and read the essays since they are written by freshmen. What makes them the hardest is the fact that no matter how long I stand up there in class and tell students how to write a good paper or how many times I allow them to sign up to come see me for help on writing their paper, these papers are still a struggle to grade because they don't listen to what I say or take my offer for help seriously.

That is the most frustrating thing about grading thesis essays. I have been teaching for three years and I still can't get over the frustration that grading essays causes.

In this particular case, I spent 5 days in class teaching them how to write. We wrote a sample essay as a class and I gave my students a step by step guide on how to write a well thought out thesis essay.

Not only did I spend 5 lessons on this, I also was available before and after school for the two weeks students had to write their essays. I had a sign up sheet since they are freshmen and need a little push to have them come talk to teachers.

Only a handful signed up.

The first year I did this, I was full of dreams and expectations that students would come rushing to sign up and follow my directions step by step.

Of course, as do most dreams you have while teaching, these dreams were crushed.

Last year, aka year two, I had the same dreams with the though that "It is a new batch of students and they will surely follow every step."

Yet again, I was wrong.

So when I did it this year, aka year three, I had zero expectations and, if this is even possible, had negative expectations. How am I supposed to stay positive when none of my students take my help?

Then it hit me: The writing process isn't about the paper, it is about the student's attitude. My students hear me but they don't listen. They take the notes but they don't follow them.


Because they are teenagers. Not just any teenagers, but young teenagers who are navigating the tricky world of new friends, new drama, new feelings, new everything. They are concerned about school but not education. They care about turning in the essay but they don't realize that all those things I have said about paper writing applies to them because they have more important things on their minds.

You and I both know that these things they are concerned with won't be important in 10 years but you try telling that to a teenager.

So, what caused me to come to this startling realization? The freshmen I had in year one are now juniors. They are writing more and more complex papers for English, for history, for science, for every subject they have. More than one has come back to me, their lowly freshmen English teacher, and have asked me to look at their essay. When I ask them why me and not their current teacher, they reply with something along the lines of:

"I just remember you taking the time to teach me how to write. I didn't listen because I was a freshmen and didn't believe you when you said that I would need to know this later. I need your help now. Hopefully you're willing to help me."

(Granted, it isn't as eloquent as that usually but you get the gist.)

The students that crushed my dreams are now restoring them. Granted, they are two years late but they finally came through.

That is how I stay positive and keep doing what I have been doing. They aren't ignoring me now because they don't recognize my willingness to help; they have put the information in their brain but it just hasn't processed yet because other things are taking up the room.

I can't give up just because I haven't helped them now. I have to stay positive because they will eventually grow as a person and realize that I have been trying to help them all along, even if it is two years later.

That is how I stay positive will grading these essays which is exactly what I am going to continue to do now as I watch football out of the corner of my eye.