Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How to grade papers

Grading papers is always time consuming. The most important thing in marking work is the feedback provided to the student: what they actually did well, where they could improve, how to be a better writer. Of course, most students just want the bottom line.

I fell across this blog post which provides a method for grading essays; I've used this method before, and I look forward to the opportunity to try it -- and all the suggestions in the comments to the post -- starting next September.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

From the land of "You've got to be kidding"

Another absurdity; perhaps you've seen this: Patrick Agin, a senior at a high school in Rhode Island, has been told that his picture cannot be published in his yearbook. In the picture, posted here, he's dressed in medieval chain mail with a broadsword over his shoulder; Mr. Agin is something of a medieval enthusiast; he's a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which promotes re-enactments of medieval history.

From yesterday's New York Times:
The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit supporting Mr. Agin’s free-speech rights to use the photo, and both sides have agreed to take the matter to the state education commissioner.

The civil liberties organization said the school’s position took zero tolerance well past the point of common sense.

“It’s a perfect example of bureaucratic ridiculousness,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island branch of the organization. “We have had zero-tolerance cases before, one where a district punished a kindergartner for bringing in a butter knife, and another where a school suspended two first graders who brought a toy ray gun. But this case is even more ridiculous, since Patrick was not even bringing the weapon to school.”

The school’s position is particularly untenable, he said, given that the school mascot is a Revolutionary War soldier carrying a rifle.
Oh, in case you didn't catch on, the school is opposed to the sword. I guess they're afraid he'll leap off the pages, like some fantasy movie, and start swinging.

But here's the real absurdity:
The school has offered to let Mr. Agin buy a yearbook ad showing the photo. By itself, that takes the whole situation into the surreal, the civil liberties organization said.

“I guess they think it’s a danger to the school system on Page 6, but not on Page 26,” Mr. Brown said.
Hypocrites; that's all I can say. Hypocrites.

While there is no freedom of speech in an independent school, I've found independent school leaders to be more reasonable than the (pardon the pun) gun-shy administrators in public schools. I'm reminded of the recent Captain Underpants incident out on Long Island... but that's for another post (or did I already post about it?)...

Why independent schools?

Recently, a few of my friends and colleagues have asked me why I'm looking to teach in a boarding school. I have a variety of reasons, some of which I discuss here. Then, today, I saw this bit from Robert Kennedy who writes the About.com site for private schools. Here he's talking about independent schools and his love for them:
I like the way they bring out the best in their students. I like being able to teach as opposed to just being a traffic cop. I abhor monopolies and relish competition. Private schools offer competition and an alternative to public education. Let's not lose sight of that basic fact. The egalitarian and other social issues serve merely as a smoke screen to obscure what is wrong with public education in America.
Good stuff. Sure, there are some things about independent schools which aren't pretty, but that could also be said about public schools. The bottom line: if I want to dedicate my life to teaching and working in schools, I want to do it in an environment where I can make a difference, where I can feel save, where I can develop deep and meaningful relationships with everyone in the community, where the values of the institution are aligned with my own values and where we actually strive to live those values, and where mediocrity isn't tolerated but meritocracy is demanded.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The holiday lull

Last year, I started my search for a boarding school job during the Christmas holidays. While this year I began my search much earlier in the year, getting the bulk of my introductory emails out the door during November, things have now slid to a halt. All is quiet. Frankly, all is too quiet.

While I've had some nibbles -- a long phone interview with a school here in Virginia; hopeful emails from a New England school that is likely going to be looking for a 1/2 time English, half-time history teacher; great conversations with former college classmates -- everything has stopped. Perhaps it is the Thanksgiving/Christmas doldrums. I can't imagine that any head of school would put much focus during these weeks on finding new faculty. Yes, making faculty choices is likely the most important thing a head can do. But, this is the time for holiday cheer and trimming the tree and feasts galore.

And, yet, I'm antsy. It doesn't matter that I know -- intellectually -- that this is a slow time; emotionally, I want to answer my call. Waiting... well, waiting is tough.