Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dive Right In!

Whew! Made if through the first week of school with students. Usually there's a half-week beginning, but for the first time in nearly two decades of teaching I was jumping in the deep end of the pool for five full days!

What did I learn form this Monday-to-Friday dive? Well, it was great to actually get past the rules of the road and orientation lessons and start discussing some content in the first week. In English 12 Honors, Arjuna is debating with Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, in British Literature, Beowulf is battling Grendel, and in Writing Skills "I Am From" poems are listing our lives. So school life is good.

The grace period hasn't worn off. I'm still on summer-lag from switching my body clock to getting up at 4:45 a.m. (Isn't it amazing that in the 21st century American schools still start so early as to 7:30! Where's the science?) And the U.S. celebrates Labor Day weekend with a Monday off. An extra day of planning for the four-day week ahead. We are underway and the water's fine.

Image credit: Shlevich, Benny. "Go!" Flickr. Creative Commons Pool. 18 Aug. 2007. 31 Aug. 2008 < >. By permission via Creative Commons Licensing (BY-SA).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lexiophiles' Top 100 Language Blogs

If Bees Are Few has just been listed #81 of the Top 100 Language Blogs on Lexiophiles. I'm excited and honestly surprised to that the Hamburg-based site, which places a strong emphasis on sites for English language learning selected this blog. The folks at Lexiophiles are dedicated to language and learning generally, and so is If Bees Are Few, of course. Our love for words is definitely shared.

Lexiophiles' list presents some other great places for language lovers to surf. It's an unexpected honor to be in such good company.

The Lexiophiles staff cites selection criteria of content, consistency and interactivity on the topic of language and learning. I enjoyed sampling some of the other sites in this special blogroll.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Look to This Day! And the Convention of the Class of 2009

Today, on my first day of school I started class by asking my senior English students if they were excited to get up today. It was afterall the first day of their senior year. Before they could answer, I told them I was.

If they had started with Kindergarten, by my figuring this was the occasion of the thirteenth year that the Class of 2009 convenes--and the last. I could tell by their reactions they had not thought of it that way before, but in that instant I had underscored the importance of our meeting. I told them they were born the year I started teaching. This also got their attention. So they and I had been on an eighteen-year trajectory. I had thought of them in 1991 when they had only been a thought.

To me teaching is a special calling. To teach literature and its power, nothing less than sacred. I explain this to my students with the example of the Sankrit "The Salutation of the Dawn," reciting it to them from memory as one of my great teachers had done to me:

Listen to the salutation to the dawn,
Look to this day for it is life, the very life of life,
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of our existence.
The bliss of growth, the splendour of beauty,
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well spent makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
Such is the salutation to the dawn.

The same sun that dawned on the Class of 2009 today, rose on the same eastern horizon some 3200 years ago and one of our great-great-great ancestors realized the miracle of the ever-returning sun, ever-beginning day, and took out a slab of wet clay and reed, and carved this poem for our inheritance. That's what excites me about teaching ever-returning students, ever-beginning years. The human conversation over time and space is both our inheritance and our duty.

In this class, in this convention of the Class of 2009, we shall celebrate such conversations across cultures as take a literary travel around the world in 180 days.

We are the only species that saves its stories, I remind my students. We are stories told together. By the time my students are my age, it will be 2037 and they may have seniors of their own graduating. (This frightens them a bit--they can't imagine being my age let alone the year 2037 or having teenagers of their own.)

I tell them this is important and a key mission of this convention. They must pass on our stories. In 2060, I tell them, they'll be headed for retirement, and I'll be dead. I count on them to save the stories and share them.

"Look to this day!" It was written 3200 years ago. It's up to teachers and their students to see it through for the next 3200. "Look to this day"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Be-Attitudes for the Start of the Year

This past week I spent a few hours in my classroom, moving desks, rearranging bookshelves, setting up bulletin boards. I pulled out my "Be-Attitudes Poster," a one-foot by four-foot poster I made years ago and have used as my reminders of how to Be-have in class. I call them Be-attitudes because attitude really shapes behavior. Get the attitude right and you've got behavior taken care of. So up go the "Be-Attitudes" on the front wall of my classroom.

Mr. Youngs' 12 Be-Attitudes, or Ways of BE-ing in Class
1. BE on time.
2. BE ready.
3. BE safe.
4. BE courteous.
5. BE heard.
6. BE hungry for ideas!
7. BE-autiful already.
9. BE personal.
8. BE done already with the restroom.
10. BE silent during tests.
11. BE original.
12. BE civil.

The poster is shorthand for what is on my syllabus and class policies orientation sheet.
1. BE on time. Have book bags stowed, English notebooks, textbooks, and any homework ready.
2. BE ready. Study before class. Don't simply read assignments, study them, know them. Bring materials--notebook, pencil, completed homework, books as assigned. Sit in assigned seats or as directed. The instructor plans to start at the bell; you should, also.
3. BE safe. No horseplay; stay alert--no slouching.
4. BE courteous. No side-talking, back-talk, blurting out, pointless noise nor distraction. No profanity, harassment, hate-speech, vulgarity! Use good manners, etiquette, and courtesy. No hats--show others respect. If you have something to say, raise your hand.
5. BE heard. Speak up! Practice public speaking skills and care enough to be heard.
6. BE hungry for ideas! No candy, food or drink. Any snack items will be discarded.
7. BE-autiful already. No vanity items such as mirrors, lipstick, makeup or brushes. Why embarrass yourself and others by seeming vain? Let only your hair stylist know your secrets.
8. BE done already with the restroom. Plan to use the restroom virtually NEVER during class time. Do so between classes and during lunch--that's eighty minutes of rest! Furthermore, asking to leave class is a bothersome interruption to the teacher and the whole class to issue a pass. If one were to use the restroom once a week, he would miss nearly a full week of class time in the year; once-a-day and he would miss more than the equivalent of twenty-two classes! Don't flush your education away.
9. BE personal. Never submit homework or other assignments on the teacher's desk. Submit work to a person, such as the instructor or the Building #4 secretary.
10. BE silent during tests. No communicating or cheating anytime during test days until all tests are collected. First offense is a penalty of 7% on your score; second offense is a penalty of receiving zero for a grade. Cheating is reported to the principal.
11. BE original. Plagiarism is "copying someone's words, work, or ideas" and is not tolerated. It is cheating; it is theft. To repeat: rewording someone's words or ideas is plagiarism. Nothing is duller than using someone else's work. Be brilliant! Be original!
12. BE civil. The instructor dismisses the class, not the bell. Let whomever is talking at the end of class finish--chance are information that'll be important to you is being offered. In any case, offer other people human dignity by showing your civility. In short, BE NICE. You will find the teacher responds well to courtesy, friendliness, scholarship, and hard work. Good attitudes and good class participation count along with good results toward good grades, especially when you really need it.