A good thing about taking on more than you usually handle is discovering that you can do it.

That doesn’t mean you want to keep handling it all. It’s just comforting to find out that you can.

So long as it eventually ends.


Difficult Conversations

After two weeks of Difficult Conversations (let’s abbreviate them to “DC’s”), I thought I was done for a while. As a teacher, I’d had my share, recently, of DC’s with students, parents, and colleagues. The content varied: managing competing ambitions (between parents and children), disrespectful students (I know- comes with the territory), and colleagues with personal agendas (including maybe me). Some were connected; all were difficult for their own reasons.

(I haven’t even mentioned DC’s in my personal life, which competed for my patience and energy at the same time.)

Some DC’s resolve but others never end. More often than not, the same ones continue. All you did by confronting them was to lay some groundwork for the conversation to continue (and still be difficult).

Approaching Perfection

A couple of thoughts on perfection. The first is about perfection in education; the second is about perfection in writing.

If you’ve read the blog, of late, as a teacher, I am trying to lessen the emphasis on marks. (Reducing the Emphasis.) More than once, I’ve had students start discussion about assessment with words to the effect, “Where did I lose marks?” “How can I get 10 out of 10?” “How can I get perfect?”

I try to shape the discussion around being “close to perfection”, due to the subjective quality of English.

Which brings me to the second aspect: perfect writing. In a previous blog,Whole Separate Language, my favourite quote appears:
“There ought to be a whole separate language for words that are truer than other words- for perfect absolute truth.”

Apart from the quote itself being about words and truth being perfect, there is the perfection of the syntax. How many drafts did it take Anne Tyler to perfect the construction of that sentence? Was it instantaneous? Did it come to her all at once?

Maybe sentences like this can be held up to students as an example of writing that is close to perfection. The fact that it is about perfection and words themselves only makes it more perfect.

Reducing the Emphasis on Marks (pt. 2)

This is a follow-up to the previous post of the same name.
Giving back students verbal feedback without marks worked well. Students had nothing to concentrate on but the comments, and their work. They read both quietly and attentively.
My colleague went one better with her class. She then gave them a blank rubric and told them, based on the feedback, to mark their essay.
I did the same with my class. They graded their work, relatively quickly.
I then revealed what I gave them.
To paraphrase a student of my colleague, “I’m not sure I agree with the mark, but I understand it.”

Reading- just finished, current and waiting

Just finished the plays:

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe

Outside by Paul Dunn


Other People: Takes & Mistakes By David Shields

Current fiction:
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

The Man Who Loved Children By Christina Stead (an Anne Tyler favourite, apparently)

Testing the Current by William McPherson

Current Non-fiction:

World Class Learners by Yong Zhao

Waiting their turn…

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarre

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill





Reducing the Emphasis on Marks

This might be the first blog I’ve written solely devoted to educational matters.

If I have a new year’s teacher’s resolution of any kind, it’s to try to reduce the emphasis on marks for students and parents. A losing battle these days, but I think it is vital. It alarms me how many students, even in grade 9, are marks-obsessed. I even had a fourteen year old once inform me, easily five years ago, that 88% on her first assignment in Drama was not going to get her into an Ivy League school. I tried to encourage her to relax at least until she got to grade 10.

This year, I am giving feedback about what students have done, more than how well it is done, in my somewhat subjective disciplines of English and Drama. I did it today in a class, and no one asked how much a given response garnered on the rubric. I am sure the questions will come when they receive the rubric, and actual grades.

Tomorrow, I intend to give back essays, filled with specific feedback and commentary about what they wrote, but I will not release the marks quite yet. I’ll let you know what the response is like.

The Wolves

Was in NYC, and for love nor money, I could not get tickets to Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, about a girls’ soccer team.

Bought the script at the Drama Bookshop. I love how a reviewer describes it:

“.. an ensemble of distinct female characters without leaning on romantic partners or traditional feminine tropes...” [TheatreMania]

I can see the appeal. What an ear for female teenage dialogue (when the adults aren’t present). I’d love to see it used at our school, but it’s just so raw. And witty.

One of the tamer exchanges between players:

– what’s the Khmer Rouge

-they’re like Nazis in Cambodia

-but in the 70’s

A Pulitzer Prize nomination did not surprise me.