Ask an English teacher!

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unus vox
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:35 pm UTC

animeHrmIne wrote:How do you feel about alternate interpretations of the literature you teach?

[snip]

My questions are simply, how do you deal with situations like this, and do you have any advice on what we could do, besides wait for the end of the week when the Unit is over, and hope that A Tale of Two Cities isn’t as polarizing()

Also, should that last sentence end in a period or a question mark? This is when I envy Spanish, where you can clearly separate the interrogative and indicative parts of a sentence.


Well, I mostly like to value any interpretation of a text if it has merit. The other day we looked at a poem and when someone posited an interpretation I hadn't considered, I lauded her on her ingenuity and took a minute to elaborate on the possibility. In retrospect, I don't think her interpretation is aligned with the poet's intention, and if I took the time to think about it I would point out why I'm sticking with the original interpretation. BUT: I'm thrilled she offered that interpretation. I like when students go out on a limb.

At other times, as is often the case, I hear interpretations that are more like guesses; a student is trying to piece things together and come to a conclusion, but the evidence is lacking or the notion wasn't completely thought through. For these cases, I'll nod my head in consideration, reiterate the student's idea, and give evidence for why I agree or disagree. In most cases, after hearing my side, students agree. But when they offer additional evidence that I'd overlooked or *gasp* misread, I'm happy to concede.

On the other hand, I've had interpretations that I can't call anything other than wrong. I don't like to say a student is wrong at interpretation, and I avoid it when possible. Still, there are those instances where someone is taking a shot-in-the-dark, or has sorely misunderstood a passage. In these cases, I don't think there's any debate after we look at more correct possibilities. I won't dismiss an answer unless it holds no credence.

As for your case, I'd be interested in seeing the sort of interpretations that your teacher shoots down. If your claims are opinionated and rooted in the text, then I think any interpretation is worth hearing.

My suggestion for your sentence:

My questions are, simply: How do you deal with situations like this? And do you have any advice on what we could do, besides wait for the end of the week when the Unit is over and hope that A Tale of Two Cities isn’t as polarizing?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby rigwarl » Mon Feb 22, 2010 5:55 pm UTC

unus vox, you have had some amazing responses in this thread.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:57 pm UTC

rigwarl wrote:unus vox, you have had some amazing responses in this thread.


If I said "w00t" would that hurt my credentials?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby scarecrovv » Tue Feb 23, 2010 2:10 am UTC

Do you teach your students to write anything of more than two pages that isn't a 5-paragraph essay/other similarly strictly formatted thing? If not, why not? That never happened at my high school. While I was by no means a shining star, I did get pretty good grades on my papers.

However, when I entered college I failed the "freshman essay evaluation" (at a tech school no less, known far better for engineering than the humanities), and therefore had to take a class that involved a significant amount of writing my first semester. I wasn't entirely sure why I'd failed, I thought I'd written a pretty good essay, though it didn't bother me much. However, for the first writing assignment in this class, I wrote a n-paragraph essay, following the traditional high school form. This class was taught by a guy who wrote actual nonfiction books for (part of) a living. Can you guess what happened when I turned in my rough draft?

SMACKDOWN!!!!

As it happens, nobody will ever write a 5-paragraph essay ever again after they leave high school. I did finish the class with a decent grade, but I essentially had to rederive the art of writing composition from base principles to do it.

So the moral of the story is that I learned more about writing from the lab reports I wrote for AP Chemistry then I did from the essays I wrote for Honors English. Can you shed some light on why English is taught this way?

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby dg61 » Tue Feb 23, 2010 3:32 am UTC

scarecrovv wrote:Do you teach your students to write anything of more than two pages that isn't a 5-paragraph essay/other similarly strictly formatted thing? If not, why not? That never happened at my high school. While I was by no means a shining star, I did get pretty good grades on my papers.

However, when I entered college I failed the "freshman essay evaluation" (at a tech school no less, known far better for engineering than the humanities), and therefore had to take a class that involved a significant amount of writing my first semester. I wasn't entirely sure why I'd failed, I thought I'd written a pretty good essay, though it didn't bother me much. However, for the first writing assignment in this class, I wrote a n-paragraph essay, following the traditional high school form. This class was taught by a guy who wrote actual nonfiction books for (part of) a living. Can you guess what happened when I turned in my rough draft?

SMACKDOWN!!!!

As it happens, nobody will ever write a 5-paragraph essay ever again after they leave high school. I did finish the class with a decent grade, but I essentially had to rederive the art of writing composition from base principles to do it.

So the moral of the story is that I learned more about writing from the lab reports I wrote for AP Chemistry then I did from the essays I wrote for Honors English. Can you shed some light on why English is taught this way?


Well, AP english does a better job of it. My AP teachers have spent the past two years weaning us from the 5-paragraph format. As to why they teach it, probably because it's easy to write(plug-and-chug essays, anyone?) and probably easy to grade without really paying attention

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Symmetrical Feet » Tue Feb 23, 2010 9:07 am UTC

What would you suggest that a student do to cope with a "bad" teacher, like those described by others? The sort who doesn't want to hear alternative views &c., the sort who gets trapped in a job he isn't particularly prepared to do or in which he has little interest. Should a student just shut up and follow the flow or bring the matter to another teacher or higher authority? Does a third option exist, maybe?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby hawkmp4 » Tue Feb 23, 2010 5:59 pm UTC

When grading writing, do you grade on spelling or grammar?
Why or why not?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Feb 24, 2010 5:16 pm UTC

scarecrovv wrote:As it happens, nobody will ever write a 5-paragraph essay ever again after they leave high school. I did finish the class with a decent grade, but I essentially had to rederive the art of writing composition from base principles to do it.


Your scenario is leaving out too much information. What was the assignment?

If your assignment was a 1 page position paper (prove why X is true), the format of the paper will probably end up looking like your classic 5 paragraph paper.

You need to state a thesis... nobody wants to read several pages without know wtf your talking about. Hence the first paragraph is the place to state your thesis.
Then you need to have evidence supporting that thesis... and its very convenient to break up your 'points' into paragraphs, and lastly you need a conclusion...

Thesis, evidence, conclusion. Millions of college papers are in that format. Go read any scientific writing, its the same.

I wish they would teach the format more in Texas. The new emphasis in Texas is on "authentic voice" so the kids write things like "I feel very strongly that healthcare is not needed, due to my (insert anecdote and lots of cultural Jargon "my peeps, haters, emo")
and they never prove anything. Who gives a flying F, what you think if you have no evidence to support it.
So we are training a generation of egomanical writers who think their opinions are valid enough to support conclusions.

Now if your assigment was creative writing, or write a 2000 word essay, or create a narrative, or some other writing assignment then yes feel free to break the 'format'.

Or, maybe that one teacher was a douchbag. "I'm super creative and I reject formal writing because I am soo trendy... " *puke* "look at how creative I am, I argued against the death penelty be telling a story about an invisible cat, and its up to super creative people like ME to figure it out".


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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Sat Mar 06, 2010 10:00 am UTC

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animeHrmIne wrote:This year, sophomore year, I have the teacher that is generally considered the better of the two teaching English II H, and she really is great, but I've been having a problem with her lately, in that she dosen't acknowledge alternate interpretations of the works, even those backed up by textual and historical fact. I used to think that it was just the fact that she dosen't let me answer most of the time, as I'm too quick with the "right" answer and she likes to let the other students talk and give them time to understand (we had a class discussion on how to make things better, and a lot of people agreed to this. I try not to let it bother me that I feel like I'm back in first grade again). I totally understand that, but when I have an opinion different than hers, she'll cut me off midway, and explain to the class why I'm wrong, even with evidence on my part. Even if half the class shares my interpretation or wants to discuss it, she won't, which is very out of character, as we've had multiple classes derailed on tangents that relate to the subject but were not part of the plan. Many of my classmates and I have been having problems with this lately, and I’d like advice.

And to think, most profs would kill just to have students regularly offer their opinions. It seems to me she doesn't have very good teaching skills and probably assumes there is only one valid interpretation of literature. I mean, it's one thing to actually have the discussion on the evidence in the text and to demonstrate why she believes the interpretation to be invalid, but that doesn't seem to be what she's doing. I've already given my opinion on ed majors and their literary analysis abilities. Being from Missouri myself I'm rather interested in which university she graduated from, assuming it was in Missouri.


As for essays, I think the biggest disservice they do is neglect to teach that the essay is about formulating and defending an argument. Form follows function.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby animeHrmIne » Wed Mar 10, 2010 4:24 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:
Spoiler:
animeHrmIne wrote:This year, sophomore year, I have the teacher that is generally considered the better of the two teaching English II H, and she really is great, but I've been having a problem with her lately, in that she dosen't acknowledge alternate interpretations of the works, even those backed up by textual and historical fact. I used to think that it was just the fact that she dosen't let me answer most of the time, as I'm too quick with the "right" answer and she likes to let the other students talk and give them time to understand (we had a class discussion on how to make things better, and a lot of people agreed to this. I try not to let it bother me that I feel like I'm back in first grade again). I totally understand that, but when I have an opinion different than hers, she'll cut me off midway, and explain to the class why I'm wrong, even with evidence on my part. Even if half the class shares my interpretation or wants to discuss it, she won't, which is very out of character, as we've had multiple classes derailed on tangents that relate to the subject but were not part of the plan. Many of my classmates and I have been having problems with this lately, and I’d like advice.

And to think, most profs would kill just to have students regularly offer their opinions. It seems to me she doesn't have very good teaching skills and probably assumes there is only one valid interpretation of literature. I mean, it's one thing to actually have the discussion on the evidence in the text and to demonstrate why she believes the interpretation to be invalid, but that doesn't seem to be what she's doing. I've already given my opinion on ed majors and their literary analysis abilities. Being from Missouri myself I'm rather interested in which university she graduated from, assuming it was in Missouri.


She actually is really amazing. She's exceptionally talented at getting everyone to enjoy class and participate and understand what they need to. She just seems to not like me. Truthfully, I feel like I'm in first grade again. She's the first teacher I've had since then that has actually had "animeHrmIne is not allowed to talk today" days. I know that I do answer too often, but she's so rude about it. And the worst part is that I just have to sit there, because I need to hear what she's saying. If I knew everything she was talking about already, then I'd request to sit outside and read, or go to the library, but it's not that I know everything, it's that I'm quick -- I pick up on what she's saying before she's done saying it, and it's hard for some people to keep up. My math teacher is okay with that, my history teacher appreciates that someone is paying attention at all, my chemistry classroom is so big that no one hears me anyway -- it's just English that's the trouble.

Sorry for the mini-rant.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Rilian » Wed Mar 10, 2010 6:33 am UTC

Why do you want to force people to read things that don't interest them?
And I'm -2.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:22 pm UTC

Also, when did you stop beating your wife?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Sun Mar 14, 2010 10:15 am UTC

Rilian wrote:Why do you want to force people to read things that don't interest them?

Because literature is also cultural history. And because authors are very good at suicides and we need to provide proper examples of what to do and what not to do for the emo kids. I mean, if you're going to do it, pull a full Hemingway and don't fail so much like Plath.

But in all honestly, literature does reflect the social and cultural issues of the time. Also, I don't want to force you to do anything other than be good enough to bullshit that it seems like you read it. Sometimes it's just easier to read it. Plus, it builds character and you don't have to walk uphill to school both ways in the snow. Now get off my lawn. :wink:


As for my wife, I stopped beating her when she started existing as a real person and not a masturbation fantasy. Wait... Forget I ever said that.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Rilian » Sun Mar 14, 2010 7:56 pm UTC

To my question, you could have just said "I don't," and there wouldn't have been any unfair implications.

But you didn't. Therefore, you are evil.
And I'm -2.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Mar 14, 2010 9:58 pm UTC

...thefuck?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby kevmus » Mon Mar 15, 2010 5:00 am UTC

Um... I hope that evilness comment is sarcastic.

Do you ever teach people who honestly don't want to be in your class? How do you try to interest them?

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Rilian » Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:29 am UTC

kevmus wrote:Um... I hope that evilness comment is sarcastic.

Why?
And I'm -2.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Blue19 » Tue Mar 16, 2010 12:26 am UTC

Commence venting:
Lets say I have an english teacher who I think is woefully underqualified. This teacher will wait 2+ months to give me my papers back, and only after the term has been over for a few days anyway. This is not because the teacher is studious by any measure, its because she does not touch them till the last week or two of the trimester, as she has proudly pointed out to an exasperated class. I can't fathom this teacher's grading criteria whatsoever. Since I have to turn in subsequent papers before I get the previous ones back, I honestly have no idea what this teacher wants in a paper. It is rather obvious that this teacher begins to skim papers as the deadline for entering grades approaches, as later papers have increasingly incoherent markings. Thus I have two questions:

1. What is the best way to deal with a teacher like this (grade wise)?

2. What is the better writing strategy, adapting to the teacher or maintaining my personal style of writing?

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Tue Mar 16, 2010 3:06 am UTC

Blue19 wrote:Commence venting:
Lets say I have an english teacher who I think is woefully underqualified. This teacher will wait 2+ months to give me my papers back, and only after the term has been over for a few days anyway. This is not because the teacher is studious by any measure, its because she does not touch them till the last week or two of the trimester, as she has proudly pointed out to an exasperated class. I can't fathom this teacher's grading criteria whatsoever. Since I have to turn in subsequent papers before I get the previous ones back, I honestly have no idea what this teacher wants in a paper. It is rather obvious that this teacher begins to skim papers as the deadline for entering grades approaches, as later papers have increasingly incoherent markings. Thus I have two questions:

1. What is the best way to deal with a teacher like this (grade wise)?

2. What is the better writing strategy, adapting to the teacher or maintaining my personal style of writing?

Grade-wise, write to the teacher. I've gotten good grades in many classes with this strategy
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Tue Mar 16, 2010 7:01 am UTC

Blue19 wrote:Commence venting:
Lets say I have an english teacher who I think is woefully underqualified. This teacher will wait 2+ months to give me my papers back, and only after the term has been over for a few days anyway. This is not because the teacher is studious by any measure, its because she does not touch them till the last week or two of the trimester, as she has proudly pointed out to an exasperated class. I can't fathom this teacher's grading criteria whatsoever. Since I have to turn in subsequent papers before I get the previous ones back, I honestly have no idea what this teacher wants in a paper. It is rather obvious that this teacher begins to skim papers as the deadline for entering grades approaches, as later papers have increasingly incoherent markings. Thus I have two questions:

1. What is the best way to deal with a teacher like this (grade wise)?

First I'd bring it up with her about not getting feedback on the papers before you start writing the next one. Then just go up the chain from there. From what it seems, she's a terrible teacher; but then again, given that I've had to sit through an hour long discussion on the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb in a 300 level class before, I have no faith in eng ed majors to know anything regarding their field. Furthermore, her grading criteria is probably crap anyways and she's likely failed at any decent pedagogy.

2. What is the better writing strategy, adapting to the teacher or maintaining my personal style of writing?

Generally you're going to want to write towards the teacher as they are the one's who are grading you paper and aren't likely to accept the idea that there are actually multiple ways to approach things. Secondly, and this applies to writing later on, figure out which critical theory to which they subscribe, especially if you're going into the humanities. If you can swing it and your college offers a course that overviews critical theory (marxism, feminism, post-colonialism, et al) then you should probably take it. It's a good way to impress professors that don't actually expect you to know that. Also, learn to argue about subject-verb agreements.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby The Happy Genius » Tue Mar 16, 2010 10:43 am UTC

While reading through this thread trying to come up with a question, the idea of plagiarism stood out. What constitutes plagiarism when there's only a certain number of ways something can be said (another question, does this sentence have a question mark because it starts with 'what' or a period, because it's said more as a statement). It's one of those fine-line types of things and I guess as an impressionable child/young adult plagiarism was used as a bit of fear mongering. In my case, I have problems getting ideas out. Things do not come readily from the abyss in my head, I draw heavily on experiences and ideas from things I've read. Now, I'm sure using an idea isn't plagiarism, but what happens when you reword an idea of someone else? I think this confusion is due to the haze surrounding "don't just move the words around in a sentence, it's still plagiarism" thing, but what if I restate an idea with new words and structure? Even if the new structure is really similar to the original?

I also wanted your opinion on something I've noticed when comparing primary and secondary schooling, and I think is the root of why I cannot write for shit, is that all through elementary school, and it started disappearing through middle school, is the idea that was pounded into my head of "do not let your sentences and ideas run on".(ooh, another, period before or after the quotation mark if it's not actually dialogue). Once I got into high school, it was increasingly "I want X number of pages and I want you to expand your ideas!", which, having been conditioned to write as short and succinct as possible, was very difficult to get into. Not to mention the aforementioned difficulty with coming up with creative ideas.

thanks!!!

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby KestrelLowing » Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:08 pm UTC

Do you support having to have 4 years of English in high school when the years required for the other core subjects are typically much lower?

I simply don't understand why I had to suffer through 4 years of literature when I was going to become an engineer. The humanities majors did not have to take four years of science.

(Sorry that I'm bitter)

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:55 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:Do you support having to have 4 years of English in high school when the years required for the other core subjects are typically much lower?

I simply don't understand why I had to suffer through 4 years of literature when I was going to become an engineer. The humanities majors did not have to take four years of spirituality.

(Sorry that I'm bitter)

I actually don't. In fact, I hardly support any method of how they arrange high school curricula. Quite frankly, it's all dumbed down bullshit and adding extra classes isn't going to fix the problem that they're not properly instructing students in the first place. Couple that with the fact that it takes Eng Ed majors a full hour or so to grasp the concept of a transitive and intransitive verb and they're barely passing the tests... Sorry, I'm just as bitter, mainly because the reason they've really pushed four years, at least in my state, was because students were failing at English. Interestingly enough, things haven't improved. On the other hand, I think I just inadvertently got made editor-n-chief today.


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