Ask an English teacher!

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Felstaff » Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:25 am UTC

Blacksails, I am pretty sure you are not an English teacher*, and also I can say with reasonable assurance that the question (The) EGE asked was not aimed at you.

*How do I know this? Wikipedia has reported a chronic shortage of [citation needed] tags since you made that post. Now cut out the bullshit, and let the more qualified people answer those questions with a modicum of civility.

Carry on.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Ixtellor » Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:11 pm UTC

What literature you learn in school is going to be a reflection of your school district.
I know my students read a lot of modern literature.

Unus Vox:
1) What kind of degree do you have. I ask, because I find the best English teachers almost always have an English degree and not an education degree.

2) How do you feel about sharing lesson plans. If you spend X number of hours coming up with an amazing lesson are you happy to share it with all your co-workers. Or do you feel that its 'your baby' and loathe to give it to lazier teachers.

3) Public or Private school? Demographics of the school? (I ask because it tends to skew a teachers outlook)

4) What books did you read solely for pleasure in 2009. (If its long, name your favs?). I ask this because 'bad' English teachers generally reply "I have been to busy to read anything". I find there is a direct correlation between good English teachers and how much they read.

5) Whats your failure rate and why?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:33 pm UTC

Sorry, I've been busy. I think a lot has been said in response to EGE's post, but I'll posit my thoughts.

The EGE wrote:1) Why are english teachers so averse to anything published after 1960 or so? There is so much great literature published in the last half-century, and it never gets taught it schools. Doubly so for sci-fi.


A few reasons. First, it takes a while for something to become established canon. That is, something is not a "classic" until it has been around long enough to stand the test of time. And teachers like teaching novels that are timeless because they are especially relevant and will likely be more influential in one's culture. I would not be opposed to teaching a book that is currently popular, but it would be a waste of school funds to order 100 copies of it and have it not taught in the future. However, books within the last 50 years are indeed taught. I am saddened to hear that you haven't been exposed to any in the classroom.

There is good Sci-Fi too. I think The Giver, Brave New World, 1984, and Stranger In A Strange Land are all valid societal critiques through a science fiction lens.

2) Why are so many incredibly cryptic things considered 'great' literature? For example, Finnegans Wake. It's considered a classic, never mind that the average person CANNOT READ IT.


This sounds like when I asked my students why they hate poetry. The conversation was as follows:

Why do you hate poetry?
"Because it's stupid."
Why is it stupid?
"Because it takes a lot of work to understand."
Oh, ok. Is it bad to put effort into a task?
"No, but we don't like putting effort into poetry."
Why is that?
"Because it's stupid."
Why is it stupid?
"Because it takes a lot of work to understand."

If you aren't one who enjoys analyzing literature, that's fine. I enjoy quick, easy-reading myself. But great writing often involves subtleties and metaphorical language that requires unraveling. This is not to make the reader's life harder; many readers enjoy complex writing. As a teacher, my job is to give you the necessary skills to traverse complex reading so that it is no longer impossibly cryptic. The math analogy above was a good one. Obviously, you won't immediately understand everything. That is the point of education.

3) Why is so much time spent on a seemingly useless activity - analyzing fiction? It seems to me that things like effective writing techniques (especially the recognition that there are things that people will need to write in their lives besides 5-paragraph essays) or simply combatting the pathetic grammatical and spelling skills of students would be time better spent than telling me about the themes in Of Mice and Men.


Out of curiosity, how might we best combat one's spelling and grammar? To that end, we need students writing. I guess I could just say, "Write me a paragraph about your weekend" or "Write me a story about a demolition derby" and work on the writing therein. But then, all we are doing is writing mechanics. By analyzing literature, we still get the writing component via essays and responses, plus the bonus of analytical and argumentation skills. Additionally, the writing of a persuasive essays requires more intelligent and sophisticated language, meaning it gives a challenge and raises your writing capability.

As for the skills of essay writing, please looking beyond the task itself and look toward the skills honed. You will need to be an analytical thinker who is capable of backing up his/her argument in life. No matter what you do. No exceptions. It's skill building. (It sounds harsh, but it's true.)

4) Why is all the literature we read written by dead white men of western European descent? Are we completely ignorant of the existance of everything written in Asia, and Russia, and Africa, and hell everything not written by an American, Brit, or Frenchman?


In the English language, there are more dead white male writers than anything else. This is surely because of sexism and ethnocentrism, with the fact that the English language is mostly prevalent in Europe and America. I try to get female authors and poets in the mix, but it's difficult to find English writers from other cultures. There are translations occasionally, such as Kafka or Dante or Homer, but international texts are usually at the college level. Novels at the high school reading level simply tend to be written in English originally, and English is the language of West Europe.

5) Do authors really conciously write this much subtext into every single word of their novels? Or is it possible that they were just trying to write an interesting plot and the subtext was entirely unintended?


Sometimes no, sometimes yes. My real answer is that it doesn't matter. We don't examine texts to discern the author's intent. We can assume his/her intent as part of critical thinking and point-of-view, but it ultimately doesn't matter. What does matter is what's on the page and what can be extracted from it. It's there and it's beautiful.

Similar question: Is there a god who put thought into every single creation on this planet? Or is it possible that some of Earth's beauty simply arose and was entirely unintended by a higher consciousness?

6) Why are English teachers so averse to nonfiction? This year (11th grade) was the first time since 2nd grade that a teacher had us read nonfiction for English.


Nonfiction is a relatively new form of writing. It wasn't popularized until the last half-century, and it didn't gain the recognition it deserved until the last few decades. In short: it's new. My hat's off to any teachers that include it. I look at creative non-fiction with my students for a unit.

7) Why do English teachers seem to assume that all reading has to be for content? My teachers seem surprised that I actually read stuff like bad detective novels and military fiction for fun. Hech, one actually seemed downright offended that anyone would use *their* language for such lowly pursuits. The best way, in my opinion, for students to learn vocabulary, grammar, and mechanics, not to mention just to be downright intelligent, is to read as much as possible, not matter what you are reading, and yet my English teachers have not encouraged such.


I agree. I see a direct relationship between students who read independently and students who are relatively good readers/writers/critical thinkers. I won't make any excuses for a teacher who discourages "fun reads." I'd just as soon sit down with a Stephen King novel or science fiction story as I would with a metaphysical allegory from the 16th century. Don't let anyone discourage you from reading what you want.

I'm sorry if I come off bitter. Just let it suffice to say that I've suffering through English for years, trying to keep up in a subject that rarely agrees with me at all and seems entirely illogical at times. I've had some very good teachers and some very mediocre ones. I have had some.. bad experiences.


I certainly empathize. It's difficult to understand, care for, or do well in a subject that you dislike. I don't think there's any quick fix for our dispositions toward academic subjects, aside from having good experiences with them. I also don't expect everyone to like English classes. At times, I simply ask that people try to see the relevance and do the best they can. I do promise it's not all futile busywork.
Last edited by unus vox on Tue Feb 09, 2010 5:59 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby tastelikecoke » Tue Feb 09, 2010 2:42 pm UTC

How do you decide a grade on a question usually a subjective as an interpretation?

e.g. The EE. Cummings' poem m00n, Our English teacher is biased on his subjective interpretations.

Talking about my English teacher, I've seen my english grade fluctuate from 2 to 2.5 and I don't really get it.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Feb 09, 2010 5:32 pm UTC

unus vox wrote:...books within the last 50 years are indeed taught. I am saddened to hear that you haven't been exposed to any in the classroom.

Anecdotal addendum: My 10th grade English class read The House on Mango Street, fewer than 20 years after it was first published. (I thought it was crap, but that's beside the point; and I might feel differently today if I re-read it. Who knows?)
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Tue Feb 09, 2010 6:12 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:Unus Vox:
1) What kind of degree do you have. I ask, because I find the best English teachers almost always have an English degree and not an education degree.


I have an M.A. in Adolescent Education - English (that's how it appears on my degree). My B.A. was in English, with a minor in Journalism.

2) How do you feel about sharing lesson plans. If you spend X number of hours coming up with an amazing lesson are you happy to share it with all your co-workers. Or do you feel that its 'your baby' and loathe to give it to lazier teachers


The business of education is to educate students. Does it ultimately serve the students? I'm for it. What do I gain by holding on to something that will benefit kids? A sense of pride? Phooey.

3) Public or Private school? Demographics of the school? (I ask because it tends to skew a teachers outlook)


I teach in a somewhat rural public school. ~100 students per grade. Predominantly white.

And yeah, demographics certainly skew one's outlook. When I broke up a fight, it was the climax of my week; my friend who teaches in New York City noted that, for her, it's par for the course.

4) What books did you read solely for pleasure in 2009. (If its long, name your favs?). I ask this because 'bad' English teachers generally reply "I have been to busy to read anything". I find there is a direct correlation between good English teachers and how much they read.


Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert Heinlein, Claudius and Gertrude by John Updike, part of a short story collection, and I started a book by John Barth (the title escapes me at the moment - I'm not far into it). I also skimmed The Atheist Manifesto but it didn't hold my attention.

5) Whats your failure rate and why?


I'd say about 10% of my students fail per quarter. I think the "why" could span an essay - there are so many factors. I promise to give that an ample response in the near future, but for now I'll have to settle with students not completing the work/apathy.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:57 pm UTC

tastelikecoke wrote:How do you decide a grade on a question usually a subjective as an interpretation?


Well, I will never asked a (graded) question that only requires a student's opinion. If I want opinion, I always follow the question with everyone's favorite addendum: why? I'm really grading based on how well students support their ideas, through textual evidence and a reasoned argument. While opinions are important, they are merely a vehicle to demonstrating a greater skill, be it argumentation, reading comprehension, analysis, etc. When I read interpretations or opinionated responses, I grade the argument - not the thesis. I will sometimes go so far as to ask students on a test, "Did you like this book? Why or why not?" and (as noted in the directions) they must support their answers with a logical argument based on the text.


To Bakemaster:

I actually read The House on Mango Street for the first time this year. I thought the latter half of the book (excluding the ending) dragged a bit, but overall I enjoyed it very much. This was also in the context of having read a slew of Caribbean literature at the time, and I was in the proper mindset for it. I'm also a great fan of stories told from multiple viewpoints, so I guess it was right up my alley. I think it's the sort of book that has a high school reading level, but is much more readily appreciated from a mature perspective. Though I suppose the same could be said for most books.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Ixtellor » Tue Feb 09, 2010 10:20 pm UTC

unus vox wrote:I actually read The House on Mango Street for the first time this year. I thought the latter half of the book (excluding the ending) dragged a bit, but overall I enjoyed it very much. This was also in the context of having read a slew of Caribbean literature at the time, and I was in the proper mindset for it.


My wife used to love Sandra C and read all her stuff and enjoyed it, until she met her and read some of her opinion pieces. Apparently if its not Hispanic/feminist/lesbian oriented literature Sandra doesn't really care for it and will say something like "unimpressed".

unus vox wrote:The business of education is to educate students. Does it ultimately serve the students? I'm for it. What do I gain by holding on to something that will benefit kids? A sense of pride? Phooey.


I see you teach in a small district. In mine we get over 20,000 applicants per year and a lot of unqualified people slip through into nice jobs. As a result they are lazy and have no idea how to teach, so they just latch onto a good teacher and use all that teachers materials never creating anything of their own. The capitalist inside me can't stand this and giving them materials makes me feel like an enabler for their suckage.

I have never said no to sharing stuff, but I am ok with NOT rewarding horrible teachers, and feel responsible for helping to keep them in the system rather than expose them.


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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:03 am UTC

Ixtellor wrote:I see you teach in a small district. In mine we get over 20,000 applicants per year and a lot of unqualified people slip through into nice jobs. As a result they are lazy and have no idea how to teach, so they just latch onto a good teacher and use all that teachers materials never creating anything of their own. The capitalist inside me can't stand this and giving them materials makes me feel like an enabler for their suckage.

I have never said no to sharing stuff, but I am ok with NOT rewarding horrible teachers, and feel responsible for helping to keep them in the system rather than expose them.


I can understand not wanting to enable a mooching teacher. If anyone is purposely trying to just use someone else's curriculum rather than making it their own, I can the problem. I especially believe that a teacher will perform at his/her best when teaching his/her own lesson. While I think a new teacher should have a lot of support from veteran teachers, that doesn't translate into copying and pasting their stuff.I have a cabinet and hard drive full of other teacher's materials, but I don't think I've actually used any of it. I've looked at it to help shape my own, but I always end up finding a big enough problem with it that wouldn't work for my own style.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Feb 10, 2010 7:25 am UTC

Can you give an example of a time that a student absolutely blew you away with the quality of an essay or open response, and what they said? (I hope you've had this kind of experience at least once.)
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Wed Feb 10, 2010 7:54 am UTC

I'll admit this: this question is completely biased by personal experience and may hit a sensitive nerve, but I'm asking anyway
Why does there appear to be a higher proportion of bad english teachers than in other subjects?
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Feb 10, 2010 6:30 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Can you give an example of a time that a student absolutely blew you away with the quality of an essay or open response, and what they said? (


I once had a student turn in an essay so insanly good, I spent an hour trying to find where they plagiarized it from, only to find out it was legit. Ridiculous writing skills for a high school student. I teach AP courses so see a lot of decent/good writers for their age group, but that one girl was way way ahead of her peers.

cjmcjmcjmcjm wrote:Why does there appear to be a higher proportion of bad english teachers than in other subjects?


My theory (I agree with you) is that lots of education majors gravitate to that field because its easier to fake and be bad at. To teach Math, you have to understand math. Unfortunatly, English teachers can get away with "read this, write this, Journal Time!". When they do teach novels, they throw in the movie and give you notes straight from the Cliff version. (SSR time kids!) They can also cover their asses by 'I am teaching creativity blah'


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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Feb 10, 2010 7:30 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:I once had a student turn in an essay so insanly good, I spent an hour trying to find where they plagiarized it from, only to find out it was legit.

On this subject, are you familiar with turnitin.com? I've only just started using it, but it seems to be a fairly powerful resource for checking an essay's originality, and a useful tool for the honest writer who wants to play it safe and avoid any appearance of impropriety.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Ixtellor » Wed Feb 10, 2010 7:41 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:On this subject, are you familiar with turnitin.com?


My schools entire english department uses it, and I know many others that do as well.

When I was in college profs would tell us they had a special program to find plagiarism... I now that special program was google.
I dont' use turnitin, but find google has never failed me.

Spotting plagiarism is easy, because you get accustomed to student writing styles, and it glows like the sun when they plagiarize. (Only fooled that one time by an exceptional student)
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Feb 11, 2010 4:43 am UTC

Nonfiction is a relatively new form of writing. It wasn't popularized until the last half-century, and it didn't gain the recognition it deserved until the last few decades. In short: it's new. My hat's off to any teachers that include it. I look at creative non-fiction with my students for a unit.

As I work with a creative non-fiction professor, even today they've yet to work out a coherent definition of what cnf actually is.

As for Chicago, so very few people actually use that style that it really isn't all that worth teaching, especially when very few students will actually ever need to use it. MLA is the overarching standard of citation formats and for most people that's all they're ever going to need to know.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Thu Feb 11, 2010 5:35 am UTC

Ixtellor wrote:My theory (I agree with you) is that lots of education majors gravitate to that field because its easier to fake and be bad at. To teach Math, you have to understand math. Unfortunatly, English teachers can get away with "read this, write this, Journal Time!". When they do teach novels, they throw in the movie and give you notes straight from the Cliff version. (SSR time kids!) They can also cover their asses by 'I am teaching creativity blah'


Sounds about right. Although, I do think some of it was due to the stupidity of my classmates making class suck. By all rights, I should have been in my HS's advanced English, but I didn't like/care about the subject enough to do that, so I went with the regular class and gave myself a de facto study hall
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Feb 11, 2010 11:29 pm UTC

cjmcjmcjmcjm wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:My theory (I agree with you) is that lots of education majors gravitate to that field because its easier to fake and be bad at. To teach Math, you have to understand math. Unfortunatly, English teachers can get away with "read this, write this, Journal Time!". When they do teach novels, they throw in the movie and give you notes straight from the Cliff version. (SSR time kids!) They can also cover their asses by 'I am teaching creativity blah'


Sounds about right. Although, I do think some of it was due to the stupidity of my classmates making class suck. By all rights, I should have been in my HS's advanced English, but I didn't like/care about the subject enough to do that, so I went with the regular class and gave myself a de facto study hall

Well, in my experience with the eng ed majors I know, the ed part of the degree, and this may just be my university, keeps them from properly getting an English education, especially in terms of literature. To be bloody honest, at the high school level, a straight lit degree would be more beneficial to teaching English than the ed half. Then again, I've always been of the opinion that if you're going to teach at the high school level you should actually have to have a degree in the subject area you're teaching aside from any sort of ed degree.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Fri Feb 12, 2010 12:34 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Well, in my experience with the eng ed majors I know, the ed part of the degree, and this may just be my university, keeps them from properly getting an English education, especially in terms of literature. To be bloody honest, at the high school level, a straight lit degree would be more beneficial to teaching English than the ed half. Then again, I've always been of the opinion that if you're going to teach at the high school level you should actually have to have a degree in the subject area you're teaching aside from any sort of ed degree.

That's the attitude some of my best (HS) teachers had: Ed degrees are useless
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Fri Feb 12, 2010 12:51 am UTC

Interesting topics, for sure. I know I've missed a couple of posts. I'm kind of drained at the moment, but the 4-day weekend coming up will surely help. =D

I'll get back to this as soon as I can.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Fri Feb 12, 2010 12:59 am UTC

Alright vs. All right - which is okay? Is one wrong, or are they both...er, will they both work? :D (Alright looks a bit odd to my eyes, though).

Also, commas! Is it acceptable to write: "But, I feel as though the monkeys should not have access to pencil sharpeners." ? I've had teachers write it that way, and I don't believe it's correct, but they (obviously) feel it's right...
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby bigglesworth » Fri Feb 12, 2010 1:18 am UTC

unus vox wrote:Nonfiction is a relatively new form of writing. It wasn't popularized until the last half-century, and it didn't gain the recognition it deserved until the last few decades. In short: it's new. My hat's off to any teachers that include it. I look at creative non-fiction with my students for a unit.
Wait, what? I'm writing this having recently been reading Herodotus and Thucydides. From The Prince by Machiavelli to the many essays such as Swift's Modest Proposal, there's been works of non-fiction in high regard for a long time.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Fri Feb 12, 2010 5:15 am UTC

Cheezwhiz Jenkins wrote:Alright vs. All right - which is okay? Is one wrong, or are they both...er, will they both work? :D (Alright looks a bit odd to my eyes, though).

They mean the same thing. The only concern is how anal your teacher is to subjective made up rules that don't actually exist, which is actually most of grammar to be honest.

Also, commas! Is it acceptable to write: "But, I feel as though the monkeys should not have access to pencil sharpeners." ? I've had teachers write it that way, and I don't believe it's correct, but they (obviously) feel it's right...

In formal writing you'd never want to do that, but in terms of non-formal and various creative writing it's more of a style choice. Virginia Woolf's famous essay "A Room of One's Own" starts out that way, though there's a clause after the "but" which causes the comma. The problem you get with that choice is that you're replying to an unstated argument that the reader has no idea about. Unless there's context as to indicate to the reader what that argument is, you're not going to want to use that format. The bigger issue isn't the comma but the use of the conjunction. I've always treated that usage how the teacher does since you're not really using the conjunction as a conjunction but rather as an interjection at the beginning of a sentence.

So, I suppose it really matters how you intend to use "but" in the context.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Bakemaster » Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:24 pm UTC

bigglesworth wrote:
unus vox wrote:Nonfiction is a relatively new form of writing. It wasn't popularized until the last half-century, and it didn't gain the recognition it deserved until the last few decades. In short: it's new. My hat's off to any teachers that include it. I look at creative non-fiction with my students for a unit.
Wait, what? I'm writing this having recently been reading Herodotus and Thucydides. From The Prince by Machiavelli to the many essays such as Swift's Modest Proposal, there's been works of non-fiction in high regard for a long time.

I believe he's talking specifically about creative non-fiction.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Jahoclave » Sat Feb 13, 2010 1:54 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:
unus vox wrote:Nonfiction is a relatively new form of writing. It wasn't popularized until the last half-century, and it didn't gain the recognition it deserved until the last few decades. In short: it's new. My hat's off to any teachers that include it. I look at creative non-fiction with my students for a unit.
Wait, what? I'm writing this having recently been reading Herodotus and Thucydides. From The Prince by Machiavelli to the many essays such as Swift's Modest Proposal, there's been works of non-fiction in high regard for a long time.

I believe he's talking specifically about creative non-fiction.

Yeah, the concept is rather new and, I believe, slightly different from essay writing.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby RandomPerson890 » Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:00 pm UTC

Hi!

First of all, thanks for creating this thread!

I'm studying English at high school. Although I love the subject, I'm horrible at it and I've never gotten a grade higher than a C!

Anyway, I've gone through some past exam papers, and the questions I've encountered have stumped me. I've written the questions, and briefly outlined how I would answer them. I'm hoping you could tell me whether or not I'm on the right track. (Your answers can be brief of course - I don't want to take your time!) :D

Exam Question 1: "To analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed the work." How far is such a view relevant to your experience of studying literature? You must refer to at least two works you have studied.

My Answer: I would pick out several events that I enjoyed in the works and talk about the techniques the author used that made the events enjoyable.

Exam Question 2: "Man's love is a thing apart; 'tis women's whole existence." Evaluate the validity of this view in literature, showing how strategies in at least two works you have studied work to confirm or deny it.

My Answer: I would talk about love as a theme in the works, explore the relationships between the men and women, and analyze whether or not they confirm this view. Can I talk about the theme of love in general in the texts? Or does every point I make have to relate back to the quote about "Man's love..."?

I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me whether my answers are on the right track! :D I'm nervous because I have my final examinations next year! :cry:

Thanks!

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby The EGE » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:27 pm UTC

Thanks unus vox, those things make a lot more sense now. You were able to answer my questions a lot better than anyone before.

I consider books like The Giver and 1984 to be very soft sci-fi. They have some sci-fi elements, but they're primarily futuristic / dystopian and as you noted, they're societal critiques through a sci-fi lens. Both of those, actually are taught in my school system and I've enjoyed both of them. We also were taught Ender's Game but the sci-fi angle was pretty much completely ignored.

The thing is, there's some very good 'hard' sci-fi out there that is accessible and interesting, and of much literary merit.

For example:
2001, and its sequels 2010, 2061, and 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels (also Clarke)
The Fountains of Paradise and The Songs of Distant Earth (also Clarke)
The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov
The Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker's Trilogy (Douglas Adams)
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby dg61 » Wed Feb 17, 2010 4:10 am UTC

The EGE wrote:Thanks unus vox, those things make a lot more sense now. You were able to answer my questions a lot better than anyone before.

I consider books like The Giver and 1984 to be very soft sci-fi. They have some sci-fi elements, but they're primarily futuristic / dystopian and as you noted, they're societal critiques through a sci-fi lens. Both of those, actually are taught in my school system and I've enjoyed both of them. We also were taught Ender's Game but the sci-fi angle was pretty much completely ignored.

The thing is, there's some very good 'hard' sci-fi out there that is accessible and interesting, and of much literary merit.

For example:
2001, and its sequels 2010, 2061, and 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels (also Clarke)
The Fountains of Paradise and The Songs of Distant Earth (also Clarke)
The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov
The Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker's Trilogy (Douglas Adams)

Well, those are all recent works, which leads me to a point about sci/fi in schools. Sci fi is a rather young genre and schools are know to have bias towards older works. This may be a confounding variable in studies of bias against sci fi. I do agree with the larger point about accessibility; it's not that hard to find works that will especially appeal to certain populations but still have great literary merit. For instance, it seems to me probable that we would see a big jump in male interest in Shakespeare if more schools assigned Henry V.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:41 pm UTC

The EGE wrote:The thing is, there's some very good 'hard' sci-fi out there that is accessible and interesting, and of much literary merit.

For example:
2001, and its sequels 2010, 2061, and 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels (also Clarke)
The Fountains of Paradise and The Songs of Distant Earth (also Clarke)
The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov
The Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker's Trilogy (Douglas Adams)

While Clarke is generally considered to be a "hard SF" author, the latter two are not. Hard SF is grounded in real science; when it extrapolates, it does so using existing theory as a starting point. Larry Niven's Ringworld is a great example of hard SF; its premise is based on the real-world science of Freeman Dyson, though much is imagined beyond our present understanding and ability. H2G2 is really better described as science fantasy. Asimov is known as a "soft SF" author even though he became famous for writing about robots, because he spends hardly any time writing about the science; his focus is on interpersonal, societal and political relationships. Interestingly enough, Asimov has a far stronger scientific background than either Clarke or Heinlein—he possessed a doctorate of biochemistry, was a tenured professor in the same field, and wrote or edited a great number of articles, journals and books on both hard science and popular science.

Two of the most prominent SF magazines currently in publication are Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and Analog Science Fiction & Fact. The former publishes mainly soft SF, the latter hard SF and, as the title suggests, some scientific nonfiction. Meanwhile, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction would be most likely to publish works that are set in the future and have many trappings of traditional science fiction (such as H2G2) but are more fundamentally humorous or fantastical than they are scientific. (I have the not-so-rare honor of having had submissions rejected by all three! Woo!)
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Rockberry » Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:46 pm UTC

I hate Shakespeare. Am I an uncouth brute?

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby bigglesworth » Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:49 pm UTC

I'd say that would depend why you hate him.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Rockberry » Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:56 pm UTC

bigglesworth wrote:I'd say that would depend why you hate him.


Memories of mind-numbing boredom while studying Shakespeare in secondary school.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby dg61 » Wed Feb 17, 2010 8:44 pm UTC

Rockberry wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:I'd say that would depend why you hate him.


Memories of mind-numbing boredom while studying Shakespeare in secondary school.

That was probably badly taught Shakespeare. Go to a decent production of one of his plays; that should improve your outlook on him.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Kizyr » Thu Feb 18, 2010 2:54 am UTC

Rockberry wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:I'd say that would depend why you hate him.

Memories of mind-numbing boredom while studying Shakespeare in secondary school.

Al Pacino in Looking for Richard, my senior AP English teacher, and Kenneth Branagh's versions of Hamlet and Othello, made me completely reverse my opinion on Shakespeare. I realized the reason I couldn't stand him before was because he was either poorly taught or poorly acted; once I saw him acted right, it was amazing.

You might still come to a different conclusion, but try a few resources outside of the boring way that they may have taught you in secondary school and see if you dislike it because it's Shakespeare, or because of the way it was presented. KF
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby kcr » Thu Feb 18, 2010 5:16 am UTC

I'm a college English student in a sea of pre-med and engineering kids (just the breakdown of a program - not department/major program, but a research program - I'm in). They like to say my only valuable contribution is writing papers, and many talk crap about the humanities on the regular. What are your responses to this kind of talk? I have my own, but I'd like some new ones!

(I am loving this thread)

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Rockberry » Thu Feb 18, 2010 6:48 am UTC

Kizyr wrote:
Rockberry wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:I'd say that would depend why you hate him.

Memories of mind-numbing boredom while studying Shakespeare in secondary school.

Al Pacino in Looking for Richard, my senior AP English teacher, and Kenneth Branagh's versions of Hamlet and Othello, made me completely reverse my opinion on Shakespeare. I realized the reason I couldn't stand him before was because he was either poorly taught or poorly acted; once I saw him acted right, it was amazing.

You might still come to a different conclusion, but try a few resources outside of the boring way that they may have taught you in secondary school and see if you dislike it because it's Shakespeare, or because of the way it was presented. KF


I might check those out. Thanks.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby Ixtellor » Thu Feb 18, 2010 2:36 pm UTC

Kizyr wrote:I realized the reason I couldn't stand him before was because he was either poorly taught or poorly acted;


How it is taught to you when your young, will be the key. If you have a crappy teacher you will probably not enjoy it. Its best when you have an expert explaining the language to you, because you miss SOOO much when you don't understand the language.
My favorite example:

"What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing".

You have to know what 'nothing' means in Shakesperian time.

If you want to love shakespere check out the 'reduced shakespere' company. They do all the plays, but here is a snipit from their Romeo and Juliet.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzVyqiskpMk
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby dg61 » Fri Feb 19, 2010 3:24 am UTC

Rockberry wrote:
Kizyr wrote:
Rockberry wrote:
bigglesworth wrote:I'd say that would depend why you hate him.

Memories of mind-numbing boredom while studying Shakespeare in secondary school.

Al Pacino in Looking for Richard, my senior AP English teacher, and Kenneth Branagh's versions of Hamlet and Othello, made me completely reverse my opinion on Shakespeare. I realized the reason I couldn't stand him before was because he was either poorly taught or poorly acted; once I saw him acted right, it was amazing.

You might still come to a different conclusion, but try a few resources outside of the boring way that they may have taught you in secondary school and see if you dislike it because it's Shakespeare, or because of the way it was presented. KF


I might check those out. Thanks.

My mom also swears by Branagh's Henry V. Also, if you are looking at Shakespeare on film, check out a bunch of productions. Different productions can be markedly different, after all, and different people might like different productions. And if there is a good acting troupe in town doing Shakespeare(or anything else that catches your eye), go to it.

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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby animeHrmIne » Fri Feb 19, 2010 4:56 am UTC

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

It would probably be bet to explain my background in English to get a clear understanding of my question, but it' long so I'm spoiling.

Spoiler:
I was never in middle school, but in a small, gifted, mixed middle- and high school setting, though my English classes have always been middle schoolers only. I attend an IB school and take IB courses, though the materials have been identical for freshmen and sophomores. As my location says, I am in Missouri, but in one of the larger cities, and we have no qualms here about literature which might be considered politically risky. I've had sex scenes in assigned reading since seventh grade; we have read and studied Shakespeare (including his penchant for bad sexual puns and anachronism), and stories about society (Upton Sinclair, The Giver, 1984, Inherit the Wind). We read creative nonfiction in The Hot Zone, and poetry with Pablo Neruda, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, ee cummings, and many others. The only non-WhiteEuropean things I've studied so far have been mostly Asian poetry in sixth grade and Homer and Sopholces for the last two years, but senior year we read Fathers and Sons and House of the Spirits, which I'm looking forward to. My English teachers have been really amazing, knowledgeable and dedicated, and I've loved the classes.


(tl;dr: I've been taught a lot about multiple subjects, and I've enjoyed it. My teachers are fantastic.)

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.

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.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:20 pm UTC

Alright, I'm back. :D

bakemaster wrote:Can you give an example of a time that a student absolutely blew you away with the quality of an essay or open response, and what they said? (I hope you've had this kind of experience at least once.)


Thankfully, I have this experience at least once in a while. There's usually one outstanding response in each assignment, but it's especially nice when I'm compelled to question if the thing is plagiarized (as noted above). I assigned a short story creative writing assignment at the beginning of the year, and I had a student write an incredible few pages that were surreal and beautiful. I even had to look up a word or two. Those are the moments that make up for so many others. Although, sometimes I feel bad when I don't have much constructive criticism for a paper, as if I'm not helping the student become even better.

cjmcjmcjmcjm wrote:I'll admit this: this question is completely biased by personal experience and may hit a sensitive nerve, but I'm asking anyway
Why does there appear to be a higher proportion of bad english teachers than in other subjects?


I think Ixtellor answered this pretty well, but I'll give my two cents.

Cent 1: Unlike many fields, it's easy to fake one's content knowledge in English. In physics, math, history, or music, you either know your stuff or you don't. A wrong answer or skill yields poor results. On the other hand, someone can get through literature classes easily as long as s/he can pay attention in class and write well. And sure, this person can write well, think critically, and respond to literature, but unless that person is also doing all the readings and putting real time/effort into the work, s/he is not getting a complete education. Unfortunately, these people may also enter the education profession with the same mentality: cover the material--or worse, just give it to students--and don't go beyond it.

Cent 2: It's sometimes difficult to see the relevance of an English curriculum. Math skills are math skills and flex your logic; knowing history is directly applicable to today's world; and foreign languages are simply practical. (I apologize for dumbing down these examples, as I know there are greater and more elaborate purposes to these subjects. I'm trying to exemplify the most obvious viewpoints.) And English? Other than knowing how to read and write, what's the purpose of all the analysis, essay writing, formatting, discussions, and seemingly arbitrary activities? I tried to explain this in an earlier post, so I won't reiterate, but my point is this: if one cannot see the justification for a curriculum, it's easier to assume the teacher is not really teaching. In short, it's easier to view English teachers as bad.

cheezwhiz jenkins wrote:Alright vs. All right - which is okay? Is one wrong, or are they both...er, will they both work? :D (Alright looks a bit odd to my eyes, though).

Also, commas! Is it acceptable to write: "But, I feel as though the monkeys should not have access to pencil sharpeners." ? I've had teachers write it that way, and I don't believe it's correct, but they (obviously) feel it's right...


"All right" is the standard and accepted way of spelling it. It also makes more sense. However, "alright" is gaining popularity and, personally, I have no problems with the one-word amalgamation. I tend to use the latter myself. But I'm a rebel.

I would never suggest putting a comma after "but." I would simply say, "But monkeys need a way to sharpen their tails." However, as evidenced by this sentence, I do recommend a comma after other introductory/transitional words. To be honest, I can't figure out at the moment why this rule applies to words like "However," "And yet," "Consequently," and so forth, but not "but." The best I can come up with is because "but" tends to follow commas when connecting clauses and it would seem unnatural to follow it with one when using it to introduce a sentence. But ... now you've got me thinking.
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Re: Ask an English teacher!

Postby unus vox » Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:24 pm UTC

RandomPerson890 wrote:Hi!

First of all, thanks for creating this thread!

I'm studying English at high school. Although I love the subject, I'm horrible at it and I've never gotten a grade higher than a C!

Anyway, I've gone through some past exam papers, and the questions I've encountered have stumped me. I've written the questions, and briefly outlined how I would answer them. I'm hoping you could tell me whether or not I'm on the right track. (Your answers can be brief of course - I don't want to take your time!) :D

Exam Question 1: "To analyze with any discrimination, you have to have enjoyed the work." How far is such a view relevant to your experience of studying literature? You must refer to at least two works you have studied.

My Answer: I would pick out several events that I enjoyed in the works and talk about the techniques the author used that made the events enjoyable.

Exam Question 2: "Man's love is a thing apart; 'tis women's whole existence." Evaluate the validity of this view in literature, showing how strategies in at least two works you have studied work to confirm or deny it.

My Answer: I would talk about love as a theme in the works, explore the relationships between the men and women, and analyze whether or not they confirm this view. Can I talk about the theme of love in general in the texts? Or does every point I make have to relate back to the quote about "Man's love..."?

I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me whether my answers are on the right track! :D I'm nervous because I have my final examinations next year! :cry:

Thanks!


Ahh, I see you're looking at prep for state exams. I don't know where you are, but these are very close to the critical lens essays on the New York State Regents. For the first question, I would be sure to state whether you actually agree with the quote or not. Keep in mind that these are asking you to not only interpret the quote, but to prove or disprove it. If you're going to examine why you found certain texts enjoyable, be sure to relate how the enjoyability of the texts aided you in your analysis of them. Also, don't feel compelled to automatically support the quote. Ask yourself: are you able to evaluate and analyze a story even if you don't enjoy it? You will almost always write better when you truly believe what you are writing.

The second question is a bit trickier. Keep in mind that the second statement works off of the first. That is, women's whole existence is man's love. To fully investigate the quote (and, don't forget, prove/disprove it), you'll have to look at it in its entirety. Do women in literature tend to exist just to support a man and/or work for his love? Or can you think of strong women in literature who act independently of the men? The best thing you can do for any question like this is to determine whether your two texts prove the quote or not. If a text doesn't work, that's just fine - it means you'll want to disagree. But do try to look at what the quote is ultimately saying, then set up your response by clearly defining whether you agree with your interpretation or not. Don't get hung up on the literature until you have a handle on the quote.

the EGE wrote:I consider books like The Giver and 1984 to be very soft sci-fi. They have some sci-fi elements, but they're primarily futuristic / dystopian and as you noted, they're societal critiques through a sci-fi lens. Both of those, actually are taught in my school system and I've enjoyed both of them. We also were taught Ender's Game but the sci-fi angle was pretty much completely ignored.

The thing is, there's some very good 'hard' sci-fi out there that is accessible and interesting, and of much literary merit.

For example:
2001, and its sequels 2010, 2061, and 3001 by Arthur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels (also Clarke)
The Fountains of Paradise and The Songs of Distant Earth (also Clarke)
The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov
The Increasingly Inaccurately Named Hitchhiker's Trilogy (Douglas Adams)


All great books. I was assigned to read Childhood's End by Clarke in my sophomore year and it was my favorite book for a while. Then it got replaced by Stranger In A Strange Land by Heinlein, from my teacher's suggestion. I'd agree that some science fiction has as much analytical and intellectual merit as any other canonical book.

rockberry wrote:I hate Shakespeare. Am I an uncouth brute?


Long answer: Nah. Everyone has their literary tastes and you're entitled to yours. However, I usually see people complain about Shakespeare because they have a hard time comprehending the language. Your boring classroom experience certain affects your taste as well. I wouldn't call your opinion invalid. I would, however, caution you against judging a work of literature based on anything other than a good, thorough reading of the literature.

Short answer: Methinks the Rockberry doth protest too much.

kcr wrote:I'm a college English student in a sea of pre-med and engineering kids (just the breakdown of a program - not department/major program, but a research program - I'm in). They like to say my only valuable contribution is writing papers, and many talk crap about the humanities on the regular. What are your responses to this kind of talk? I have my own, but I'd like some new ones!


Left brain vs. right brain: fight!

As long as people are drawn toward different academic areas, usually because of their own affinities for affairs of the left or right half of the brain, there will always be ego stroking. As for which is more important, I couldn't possibly tell you. Being someone in the language field, my sympathies will always lean toward the creative, analytical, and artistic side of things. Although, I completely understand arguments for the sciences. I'm sure anyone in, say, engineering would argue for the practicality of their field. After all, the world is shaped by invention and innovation. To build and create is the staple for technological progress and, in turn, progress as a civilization. Could we fly to the moon on a book? Could we fix the economy with a discussion of literature? We can barely put food on the table with such hobbies - how are we to contribute to humanity?

But enough with devil's advocate. Language is art, and art is what makes us human. Sure, we can build elevators to the moon and super computers and nuclear wessels (sic.). Sure, we can transform ourselves from base animals to technologically advanced beings, cure diseases and define quantum mechanics. We can do all this and more, but what is the point if we cannot recognize the beauty in doing so? If humanity is measured on a scale of logic and efficiency, then computers are more human than we are. When we speak of the human condition or, better yet, the human spirit, we are not merely speaking of quantifiable achievement. We speak of the totality of human experiences, many of which are emotional, (arguably) illogical, and only adequately communicated through literature. This is the art of being human. This is history recorded through those who experience it - not to make life easier or more efficient, but to simply evaluate and define life itself.

We're talking Spock vs. Kirk here. One was more efficient, pragmatic, and applicable. The other was captain.
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