Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Engaging Students through Foul Language

In the credentialing program, the instructors teach you all of these wonderful strategies to help you be a more effective teacher and design compelling lessons.  But one thing they never teach you is the power of cursing.  At the middle-school level, throwing in a curse word from time to time is a great way to add a little liveliness to your lectures.  Not any of the big ones (dropping the F-bomb in the middle of class might be a bad idea), but the more mild curse words, such as "crap," "hell," "damn," and so on.  The reason is simple.  Ninety percent of your students don't really give a crap about what you're teaching (see how nicely "crap" slides into that sentence?), but if you drop in the tiny occasional curse word, you will suddenly have their undivided attention.  Especially with seventh graders.  They have just graduated from elementary school in which any type of foul language is a huge no-no, so when they hear a teacher slipping in even a mildly bad word, you can see their mouths nearly drop open in shock as they snap to attention.  For example, a few weeks ago I was teaching my students what it means to be "objective" in writing.  Here is an excerpt from that lecture:
Okay guys, if you were a reporter and you were covering a burglary, you would have to be objective, which means keeping all of your opinions and emotions out of your story.  It might sound something like this: "At approximately 2:15 a.m last night, three suspects were seen entering the Quickie Mart on Rodeo Drive, wearing black ski masks.  The suspects managed to flee the scene with..."
At this point I noticed the students were beginning to fade.  Enter curse word.  Back to lecture:
Now, did you guys notice how there was no emotion or opinions expressed in this news story?  It's not like the reporter said, "At 2:15 a.m last night, three suspects burglarized the Quickie Mart.  OMG, this really pisses me off!  What's up with all of these retard-criminals?"   
At this point, I had my entire class back, laughing and hollering.  Simply from using one mild curse word.  And once they're snapped back to attention, you have them for at least another good ten minutes before they start to fade again.  The above was a longer example, but this technique can also be played out in a short and sweet fashion.  Example:
Q: Mrs. P, why does the word 'goose' turn to 'geese', instead of 'gooses'?
A: Because it's one of those bastard words we talked about earlier that doesn't follow the rules.
The key is you can't over-use this technique.  If the word uttered isn't a shock to their system, it does no good.

On a somewhat related note, did you know that, according to Myth Busters, cussing actually increases your pain tolerance?  So not only is some mild cursing good for student-learning, but it actually provides the teacher some much needed therapy throughout the day.

So teachers:  Know your material, design engaging lessons, and...cuss a little.  Join me next week for Part 2 of this series: How Vodka can improve student retention.  ;-)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Led Foot of Life

On my way up the mountain last night, I was listening to the radio (in and out of static) and caught part of the John Tesh show.  He was discussing the phenomenon that most of us can relate to: the fact that as we get older, the days start to feel shorter and, in general, life seems to fly by quicker.  Psychologists have actually performed studies on this curiosity, hoping to figure out why life seems to accelerate at a nearly alarming pace the further we age.  Based on their studies, they did actually come up with one viable theory.  What researchers found was that every time we, as humans, do something incredibly routine, our brains go into "auto-pilot" mode.  This is no big surprise...most of us already know this; the most obvious example being driving a familiar route every day and suddenly jerking to awareness when we have finally arrived to our destination.  But naturally the older we get, the more routines we establish, such as doing our daily jobs, running errands, grocery shopping, paying bills, cooking dinner, and so on.  Unfortunately, during these familiar tasks, our brains tend to go into that same auto-pilot mode as it does while driving.  Thus, for a huge percent of our lives, our brain is practically on a sort of stand-by, and this can make the days (and ultimately months, years, etc.) feel very short.

The solution, according to researchers?  New experiences.  Every time we engage in activities that breaks the mold of our normal everyday routines, our brains become fully alert and awake, absorbing every part of the moment.  Every new experience is integrated into our memory and can actually have the effect of lengthening our days and, overall, making our lives feel longer.

Now this is all theory, of course.  But hopefully it's legitimate enough to excuse the fact that I got completely drunk last night at a bar in Crestline, danced with a bazillion different people, and walked about half a mile in twenty-some degree weather at 2:00 a.m while eating a chocolate doughnut. 

Shannon, Jeremy, Sarah, Clint, and I all went out to celebrate Sarah's birthday last night.  We decided to walk from Shannon's house to the local tavern, that way we wouldn't have to worry about the drive home.  We arrived around 8:30 and stayed until the place closed.  We had an amazing time.  The place was rustic, warm and inviting, and Shannon and Jeremy knew practically everyone there.  The music played was awesome, and although the dance floor was small, this didn't deter anyone from dancing themselves silly.  I can't remember the last time I danced so much (and trampled so many people in the process). 

The only downfalls to the whole evening were 1. Clint refused to dance, and 2. Jeremy got into a fight.  Regarding #1, the fact that Clint won't come out and dance with me is only a minor issue, because either way I still dance, and he is pretty understanding about me occasionally dancing with other males.  I just feel like he's missing out on such a joyful, cathartic experience and I wish I could share it with him.  I told him today, "You need to stop forcing me to replace you with some random guy every time I want to dance.  Get out there and dance with your wife!  Better yet, throw caution to the wind and get down with your wife.  You should be out there grinding me on that floor and embarrassing the people around us."  Of course I was (mostly) kidding about that second part, but I was suddenly speaking his language and he started cracking up.

As far as Jeremy's fight, it happened as everyone left the bar.  I'm still not clear as to what instigated the fight, but it pretty much seemed to start with your typical verbal machismo contest between two drunk guys.  It eventually led to a physical fight, which was broken up after a minute or two.  Then, as everyone started to part ways, Jeremy suddenly lunged for the guy again.  At this point, one of the guy's friends decided to jump in, and they pinned Jeremy on the ground and were punching and kicking him.  It was horrible.  I remember I just wanted those guys to get off of him, and some other guy kept pulling me back saying "Just let them fight it out, sweetheart."  Aside from the belittling term "sweetheart," Mr. Chauvinist didn't seem to understand that I was actually all for letting them fight it out until it became two on one.  Then I was feeling aggravated that the whole thing was weighted so unfairly.  I'm pretty sure that Jeremy started the fight, but it still prickled at my sense of justice that there were two men pounding into him.  Eventually the fight was broken up and Jeremy's face had some bloody gouges, a swollen lip, and a slowly developing black eye, but overall he didn't look too worse for the wear. 

At this point we made the uphill trek back to Shan's and Jer's house in the freezing darkness (although I personally was still warm from liquor), and happily chitter-chattered about...stuff I can't remember.  I loved that walk home.  I could see my breath coming out in frosty puffs, and Sarah kept whining about having missed out on the whole fight because she was off making goo goo eyes at some cowboy, and the trees loomed so tall, and the stars were so bright.  Sorry, that last sentence was a bit of random stuff shoved together, but I just noticed that it's after 2:00 in the morning, so elegant writing just isn't going to happen.  My final thought is, last night may have not been perfect, but if the above-mentioned researchers are correct, the evening has officially added so-called time to my life (of course any time gained I probably just lost by blogging about it, so now it's actually a push--oh well).  I guess in this sense I don't have any regrets.  Although maybe I need to evaluate the evening a little more and get back to you on that one. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Serving on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving yesterday was very pleasant.  We spent most of the day with Clint's family, doing the typical Thanksgiving day activities such as gorging ourselves with way too much food and watching football.  Except for I didn't really pay attention to the game because I find sports on television to be painfully boring.  I spent most of my time talking to Clint's sister and his grandpa.  I enjoy talking to Clint's grandpa because he tells the most interesting and funny stories from back when he was in the military (like the time they had a female officer on board their plane and wound up having to make an unscheduled landing to find her a tampon).

Yesterday morning I served Thanksgiving meals to needy and homeless families with the Salvation Army.  I had actually wanted to have the Builders Club help out this year, but since I had never volunteered myself, I decided that this year I would try it out on my own first as a way to sort of test the waters.  I loved it.  From the moment I arrived, there was an immediate camaraderie between myself and the other volunteers.  After about an hour, we were joking and laughing together as if we were old friends.  In the beginning, I was in charge of beverages.  I loved this job, because it meant that I was out on the floor, getting to greet and talk with every single person.  I met so many interesting people.  Several of them were in wheelchairs or handicapped in some other way.  One lady seemed to be suffering from some sort of dementia and needed me to walk her everywhere.  One woman was a single mom living in a motel.  But I'd say about half of the people we served were just your normal, everyday people down on their luck and suffering from a bad economy.  Everyone we served was grateful and happy.  At times it felt like I was back to my waitressing days, joking around with customers with lots of fun, boisterous conversations. 

After about an hour, they had to switch me to the kitchen because they had a shortage of cooks.  The irony of course is that I am a very scatterbrained cook, and here I was in this tight kitchen with two other so-called cooks, whipping up sweet potatoes and cooking bin after bin of turkey.  I was in charge of the turkey, sweet potatoes, and gravy.  The stove was this giant archaic iron beast, and it had this enormous heavy door that refused to close all the way.  Every time I put in some new turkey and closed the door, it would slowly fall open again.  The other cooks were laughing at my attempts to verbally coax--and eventually beat--that damn stove into submission.

When it was time to go, all of us volunteers said goodbye to each other and gave each other hugs.  It was honestly an experience I will never forget.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Power of Wielding Names

I'm not crazy about my name, but I don't hate it either.  I love my sister's name, Shannon. It rolls off the tongue like a soft whisper. My name uses harsh, very unsensuous sounds...the sort of hard syllables that babies are able to babble early on because they are easy to pronounce.  It's one of those in between names.  It's not a beautiful name, like Cadence or Serena, but it's not as plain and uninspiring as Joan or Sue (if there are any Joans or Sues who read this blog, I hereby apologize!). 

Yet despite my indifference towards my name, I absolutely love it when people say my name.  For example, if I'm walking past a colleague at work and he or she utters out a quick "Good morning", naturally I will reply back with a cheery greeting, but the brief exchange will have already been forgotten in a matter of minutes.  Yet if this same colleague greets me with "Good morning, Jodi," I will remember it for the rest of the day, if not longer.  Something about having someone use my name makes even the most casual greeting seem so much more personal.  It's strange though, because hardly anyone is bold enough to regard acquaintances directly by their names.  It's almost like you have to cross a certain unwritten threshold before regarding others by their names, and if you haven't reached this point yet, using their names too soon is like some kind of violation of personal space.  I wonder...do people feel invaded on some level when someone they barely know uses their name?  I hope not, because I am a massive name-user.  I make it a point to learn others' names as soon as possible, and I am often calling people by their names before they even know who the hell I am.

I remember back when I was a waitress, I would have the occasional complete stranger--usually a male--call me by my name (having read it from my name tag).  This would generally throw me off a little.  On the one hand, I would admire this person's boldness in being willing to look me straight in the eye and use my name.  That, from my perspective, takes some confidence.  But on the other hand, hearing my name roll off of the lips of a stranger could sometimes create a very subtle, unsettling feeling...perhaps because it almost felt like the balance of power in the situation was shifted to his advantage.  He was now able to use my name freely and command my attention, but the same was not true for me.  Maybe that's why people, in general, are reluctant to use others' names.  Maybe it's a subtle way of wielding some kind of authority over that person, and people lack the audacity to do that.  Maybe I should stop doing it myself.
On the other end of this spectrum, it doesn't matter how long I know someone--if he or she fails to call me regularly by my name, I simply feel no closeness with this person.  I have a few coworkers who fall into this category.  We're great friends, we get along famously, we laugh a lot; but they don't call me "Jodi."  They walk up and say "Hey, how's it going?" and such, but they don't regard me by my name.  I feel like telling them "Grow a pair, will ya?  The planet will not suddenly spin off it's axis if you call me by my name."

And then there are others who, when they do utter your name, it almost makes your heart beat perceptibly faster.  Those are the smooth ones who know the power of saying your name, and they aren't afraid to brandish that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mom's Gravy and Knott's

This is going to be a short post because I need to go work out and then go eat some tacos.  Earlier this week, we had a Thanksgiving-themed small group at our house.  It was my and Clint's very first time cooking a turkey, so that's one way-overdue milestone that we can officially cross off our list.  Clint pretty much took over with the turkey preparations though, so honestly I didn't contribute much.  But I did make homemade country gravy for the first time ever, without using a recipe.  I just remember as a kid, my mom used to make white gravy by combining turkey drippings with milk, flour, and black pepper.  I tried to follow this "memory" recipe as best as I could, but once finished, the gravy tasted a little plain.  That's when I remembered that Mom sometimes used to add a dash of Tabasco sauce into the gravy to give it a kick.  We didn't have any Tabasco, so I sprinkled some hot chili juice in it instead.  After that, it tasted good.  I do realize I'm going on and on about the gravy, but I am not exactly a Chef Ramsey, so making anything that is somewhat palatable is always a thrill.  Clint's turkey came out juicy and delicious, and with the food brought by everyone else, it was a great meal.  Once we were all seated at the table, Becky suggested that each person at the table share something that they were thankful for, to which we all loudly groaned.  But we did, and some of the things shared at that table actually made my eyes mist up a little because they were so touching.  That's the one thing I love about Becky; she is always the one to pull us out of our comfort zones, and ultimately, we're always glad we played along. 

Matt and Alana wound up staying until after 11:00 that night, and because I was still amped up when they left, I wound up not sleeping.  I'm all caught up on sleep now though, which is good, because this is my last very busy week of dealing with the Top Turkey competition before Thanksgiving break.  This Friday, I'm going on a field trip with our AVID students to Knott's Berry Farm.  We will be leaving for this trip after school at 3:00 p.m., and returning at 3:00 a.m.  I love amusement parks at night, so the hours actually excite me more than anything else, but I do wish I didn't have to get up at 6:00 that morning.  By the time we arrive back to my school's parking lot, I will have been up for 22 hours.  And this doesn't count the time that I may have to wait for stray students to get picked up by parents who have fallen asleep on their couches.  These logistics don't bother me too much though.  I'm still very excited.  I'm just going to pump my body up with caffeine all night.

So much for my short post.    

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Craving for Anonymity is Contagious

I'm beginning to feel bitter toward my blog, but not in an extreme way where I'm going to wipe the whole thing out and give up on it.  Just in a small, frustrated way.  It's the same old dilemma as always.  I simply can't write what I really want to say.  I still remember my first few blog entries in which no one knew that my blog existed.  I loved that feeling of being able to purge myself freely on a screen that no one else would ever read.  It truly was an online journal.  But now, those truly "purging" entries have long been deleted, and I have at least a dozen unpublished blog entries that I will never have the guts to post.  I used to write about things that mattered to me, but now I'm reduced to writing quaint, generic little pieces on teaching and life, for fear of offending someone or saying the wrong thing.  

Most of this is my own fault.  I went awhile where I thought I wanted my blog to be read, so I allowed it to be discovered through avenues such as Twitter and facebook.  After all, words that never get read is like art that never gets gazed upon...what's the purpose?  But now I am regretting this.  I miss the innate value of writing just to write, and I feel fake when I'm writing for the benefit of others.  I'm not sure what the solution to this is.  Yesterday I removed publication rights to Networked Blogs, deciding that it definitely wasn't for me.  I also took some other steps to pull back that I won't detail here, and overall, I guess I do feel a little bit better.  I still wish though that I could completely and utterly spill out what I really want to say.  I don't know...an anonymous blog is sounding more and more appealing every day.  Or maybe I just need to go back to old school and take up journal-writing again.  The kind you do on real pages.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dreaming of Turkeys

That title makes it sound like I'm really excited for Thanksgiving, and don't get me wrong...I do enjoy this cozy, warm little holiday.  But it is not delicious, mouth-watering Thanksgiving Day turkey I have been dreaming about.  It is paper turkeys.  Or more specifically, paper turkey feathers.  And by dreaming, I mean quite literally dreaming, as in, my REM cycles are being saturated with paper feathers.

You see, our school has this tradition of holding a "Top Turkey Competition" every year.  Each participating staff member hangs a paper turkey in their classroom or office, and students buy feathers for their favorite staff members' turkeys.  At the end of the contest, the teacher with the most feathers is declared our school's "Top Turkey" and wins a crown of feathers and a frozen turkey to enjoy on Thanksgiving.  Proceeds for feathers generally go toward a good cause (Salvation Army this year).  My club, the Builders Club, is running the competition, and not only did we have to cut out a gazillion-bajillion paper feathers in preparation, but at the end of each day, I have to take all of the feathers students purchased and divide them up into little bundles to put into the teachers' boxes.  This translates to over 800 feathers that I have sorted through, paper clipped into little piles, and delivered (and this was after only three days of the competition). 

I'm having a great time running this fundraiser, but for two days in a row, I have been dreaming of feathers.  It's nothing specific, it's just that anything I dream about has feathers plastered all over it.  Like two nights ago, I dreamt of my friend Felisa's upcoming baby shower, and in the dream, the guests had paper feathers attached to their clothes and hair, and all of the gifts were covered with feathers.  Last night, after finishing the first book in the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, naturally I had a dream about owls.  But ALL of the owls were covered with feathers.  Okay, I realize that owls are supposed to be covered with feathers.  But these ones were covered with paper feathers...orange, green, and blue ones.  It was just wrong.

I have one more week left of this competition.  This means only one more week of my subconscious being smothered with colorful paper feathers.  I'm just hoping I don't have any "NC-17" dreams this week.  I think I might wake up screaming.