Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for.....

L is for.....Language Arts.

I teach 8th grade Language Arts. We don't call it English in middle school, it's Language Arts nowadays. Not sure why, but hey, I'm just a humble public servant. The powers that be can call my class whatever they want. Like my main man Will once said, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Or something like that.

My job is to teach 13 and 14 year olds how to read and write better. This may come as a surprise to some, but a good majority of today's teenagers are not particularly excited about reading and writing. As if the gig isn't hard enough, many of my students come in working below grade level. I've got kids who read and write at a second grade level, 5th grade level, 8th grade level, 10th grade level, all in the same class. I have 125 students this year, and my challenge is to help them all improve. All this is to say, teaching kids to read and write is a daunting task.

There are days when it feels like it's all a big waste of time, like nothing I do makes a difference. My students are at a critical juncture. If they can't read and write, what chance do they have in this world? I try to have the kids read and write as much as I can, but I only have them for 50 minutes a day, a little more than 4 hours a week. Factor in all the absences and wasted time dealing with disruptive kids, and it's just not enough. Sometimes I feel like my job is impossible.

I can't give up though. It's just not in my makeup. I may have chosen a quixotic profession, but I love it. I love when a kid figures out how to correctly combine two sentences into one. I love when a kid volunteers to read out loud because he's finally confident he can do it. I love when a kid writes an essay with an obvious thesis statement and ideas to back it up. I love when a kid tells me the book we're reading in class is the best book she's ever read (thank you Hunger Games). I love when a kid who would make you cross the street writes a poem that can break your heart. These are the little victories that keep me going.


  1. Your reasons for teaching are wonderful. I was the kid who could read above my grade level but was too shy to read out loud. One teacher put me in remedial reading because I was so bad at reading aloud.
    But my Language Arts teachers were responsible for my journaling habits.

  2. Don't give up, that one kid that you reach out of 30 in your class could be the next JFK, Einstein, Nelson Mandela, etc. Where as the ones you don't reach could be the next Jeffery Dalhmer, Hitler, etc. And we need more of the first group to counter act the second group if you get what I mean.

  3. Your last paragraph is very touching! I especially loved your sentence about reading out loud, like Carrie, I was too shy to do this in class, so that sentence really made me smile. Great post.

  4. Carrie: Thanks for sharing your experience. It reminds me of what a huge responsibility I have to really figure each kid out.

    OT: I know exactly what you mean.

    Julie: Thanks for the kind words. Like you and Carrie, lots of strong readers would rather not read in class. I love trying to draw those kids out. It's tough, but when it happens, it's rewarding.

  5. My earlier comment didn't stick... I'll try again.

    Great post Tim, reading it provided me a nice start to the day. My wife works in the public schools in our little town and echoes many of your sentiments. I am inspired by (and a bit in awe of) the energized patience you both display.

  6. Well, you know I come from a family of teachers: Parents, sister, cousin, grandmother, aunt, uncle. I've heard their frustration around many a holiday dinner table. But they all loved their jobs and wouldn't do anything else. It takes a special person to be a teacher.

    Huzzah for teachers!!

  7. I have such a great respect for you and teachers like you. I couldn't do your job if I tried.


  8. Aw, that last paragraph is how my 8th and 11th grade English teachers were, and are the reason I keep thinking I'd love teaching those grades. The kids who don't love reading or writing, and instead get violent in the classrooms are the reason I don't...

  9. C. and I often thought of you while watching the 4th season of The Wire. You would kick butt in E. Baltimore! Wish I would have had more cool/tough teachers like you back in the day. You and your wife (and all good educators, really) are my heroes.

  10. Munk: Thanks man.

    LG: My wife and sister are both English teachers as well, so my girls are in the same position you were, hearing all the gory details.

    Misha: You are too kind. Thanks for the follow.

    allison: I'm constantly reminding myself to focus on the good kids, and not the ones who drive me crazy.

    Jane: Thank you Jane, that means a lot coming from you. Meg and I still need to do season 4-we'll do it this summer.

  11. yeah, Tim! (me teach math, feel same way)
    You're doing great, because you care!
    I'm taking a PD course on differentiating and I just laugh at what all "they" want us to do. Keep up the good work, man!
    Happy L Day!

  12. Kudos to you for taking such pride in what can be such a thankless profession. Reading and (proper) writing seem to be going the way of the dinosaur and it's refreshing to hear someone so passionate about his calling. Don't give up!

    Popping in by way of the A-Z Challenge. I’m blogging at:
    Write, Wrong or Indifferent
    Marie Anne’s Missives
    In the Garden With Sow-n-Sow
    Every Day Crochet

  13. 13 and 14, ok I have cold shivers! what an age

  14. Squilla's AuntApril 14, 2011 at 7:52 PM

    You and Meg both log so many unseen hours with no visible results. But I love that those small glimpses of progress feed you for days.

    I believe - passing test scores or not - that you are making a difference in these kids' lives. Don't grow weary of the good you're doing - you are making a difference!

  15. I'm giving you a Versatile Blogger Award! Come and get it =)