Monday, January 07, 2008

A Full Day

Imagine you're teaching a bunch of kids who barely speak English how to pass the English Regents exam. What can you do? You break it down to bare bones, try very hard to get them to understand and respond directly, and ask for four-paragraph compositions that marginally get the job done. You write sample compositions, and explain how you wrote them.

You make them write until their hands bleed, you do drafts and more drafts, you read everything, and they rewrite everything. By the end of the semester, you think you've made progress.

Then two kids scan compositions you wrote, type their names on them, and fully expect a good grade. They don't expect you'll remember having written them yourself. They don't expect you to notice that they're responding to a different question and this answer no longer applies. They don't expect you to remember that the written notes they've been making have nothing to do with what they submitted.

Another kid hands you a summary of Moby Dick that's clearly plagiarized and has nothing to do with the question. You ask the kid what certain words mean, and the kid has no idea. You ask how the kid managed to use the words while not knowing what they meant, and the kid looks up at the sky.

Then a kid brings you a doctor's note, explaining he had a headache and couldn't come to school yesterday. It's from an obgyn, and it carries the signatures of three other teachers, who clearly haven't looked at it closely.

Finally, one kid hands you the entire text of The Cask of Amontillado. As your head bangs loudly on the desk, you seriously begin to wonder whether the other boy's gynecologist can help you with the pain.
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