Vol.#84: “Is This A Grade?” [Infographic]

I haven’t had time to write on my blog, so I’m going to post this one–so good and so true: Is This a Grade? is almost as bad as “Did we do anything important in class yesterday? Yuck!

Teaching Speaks Volumes

They say there is no such this as a bad question, but, “Is this a grade?” makes me think otherwise. This is one of my least favorite questions of all time, and teachers are asked this by students often.

It reveals a student’s thought process on if a learning experience is important and worth their time or not.

I have tried several approaches to this question. I have tried to ban  the question from the classroom without success. I have tried consistently using the vague response, “All things in life are assessed.” They have been undeterred.  My students have even gotten savvy enough to know to ask, “Is this formative or summative”?

I decided I do not want to answer this question again. To that end, I have created a flow chart to post on my wall:

Is this a GRADE-

PS: I love you Piktochart.

If you would like it for your classroom…

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Got to Post This–Satire from The Onion

Busy with catching up after the Ice Storm of 2015, so I’m going to pass on this satire from “The Onion” as my blog post for today. Although it refers to K-12, it relates to higher education too. One thing I’ve noticed is that fewer and fewer of my students are planning to be teachers. They tell me it’s less the low pay and more the lack of respect and the increasing amount of bull that teachers have to put up with that is keeping them away from the profession, especially in North Carolina.


Why Devaluing Teachers Hurts Everyone

This article by Peggy Wuenstel of Marquette University certainly expresses my feelings

The Marquette Educator

price-is-what-you-payBy Peggy Wuenstel — I have been spending many angst filled evenings over the last two years, trying to get a sense of when things went off the rails.

I have been in this business for 30 years. There are some things that I knew back at the beginning that are still true today. Teaching is hard work. Educating children is a team sport. You will never get rich working in public education if your bank account is the measure of your success. The days will be long and the summers will be short. The intangibles will always trump the measurable in making you feel like you earn your paycheck, and even though it’s not all about the kids, it is certainly mostly about the kids.

Some things have changed radically, at least here in Wisconsin.

Showing up every day, doing the best you can, keeping your skills current, and…

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Today is a Different Reality

A kindred spirit!

Frogs in Hot Water

This is the start of a new quarter at my community college and we, like many, are mired in budget issues, enrollment issues, hiring crises, etc.  You know, the usual kerfluffles that make up higher ed.  To escape the quagmire, I look for inspiration among my super smart writer-type friends who add their thoughts about leadership, learning, and other areas I am interested to the blogosphere.

Yesterday, I read a post on Marcia Conner’s blog that has stuck with me all day – I even forwarded it to my dean. (By the way, if you aren’t following Marcia, you should be).

The full post is here, but the part that hooked me is this (written by Garry Ridge, CEO of the WD-40 company):

“You have to separate those responsible for today from those responsible for tomorrow.” A light went off in my head as I realized the implications for WD-40. The company…

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10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me for Success

Take that, you know who!


Studying lines for a production “The Servant of Two Masters”

I have a confession to make. I was a theatre major in college (yes, complete with the snooty but appropriate “re” spelling). I’ll wait for you to stop snickering. Judson University (it was Judson College when I attended), the small liberal arts college outside of Chicago labeled the major course of studies as “Communication Arts” which is what I tend to put on resumes and bios because I realize that “theatre major” tends to elicit thoughts such as “Do you want fries with that?”

When I chose my major, I had no pipe dreams about becoming a professional actor. I did it because more than one wise adult had advised me that my actual major in college would have less impact on my eventual job search than having the actual degree. “Study what you love” I was told, “not what you…

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Everything Old Is New Again, Part I–Hard Times


One of my areas of concentration in my graduate studies was 19th Century British literature, specifically the Victorian Era. Something about this time period has fascinated me since I was a little girl. Public television, bless it, introduced me to works by Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, Elizabeth Gaskell, and of course, Charles Dickens.  I also read Dickens in school, and when I was eight, I saw the classic musical Oliver based on Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, which fueled my desire to read his books. I remember as a young pre-teen, how I would settle in a corner and re-read A Christmas Carol by the lights of the Christmas tree. I’ve seen just about every film version of any Dickens’ novel that has been made–A Christmas Carol–many, many versions–Alastair Sim is still my favorite Scrooge, although Bill Murray and Patrick Stewart are right up there.

My interest in Dickens and Victorian literature continued into high school and then college. As an English major in undergrad school, I took a course called the Victorian Era where I read about Dickens’ role in educational reform, along with other great reformers, including John Henry Cardinal Newman (whose work The Idea of a University will be the subject of my next blog).

Then, in graduate school, preparing for my comps, I took a course called 19th Century British Literature and had the opportunity to read Dickens’ book Hard Times, a novel about Thomas Gradgrind, a wealthy retired businessman who believes in practical, tangible knowledge above all and does his best to wipe all “fancy” and imagination from his children’s lives as well as the people in the town he controls, effectively crippling them. Gradgrind founds a school, run by one Mr. M’Choakumchild, to further his utilitarian ideas of education.

Hmmmmmmm–an extremely wealthy businessman who knows little about education presuming to tell educators what and how they should teach and wishes to privatize education–sound familiar?

Well, I’m a decent writer, but I’m no Dickens, and I couldn’t possibly put into words the way I feel about the current state of education in my country better than he does, so here’s two passages from Hard Times. The first opens the novel and lays out Gradgrind’s educational philosophy. The second is a grim description of what life is like for the people indoctrinated by said philosophy. Let’s hope “our town” never looks like “Coketown.”

From Hard Times by Charles Dickens


Now, what I want is, Facts.  Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.  Facts alone are wanted in life.  Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.  You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.  This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children.  Stick to Facts, sir!’

The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a school-room, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial.  The emphasis was helped by the speaker’s hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely warehouse-room for the hard facts stored inside.  The speaker’s obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,—nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodating grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,—all helped the emphasis.

In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!’

The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.


Coketown, to which Messrs. Bounderby and Gradgrind now walked, was a triumph of fact; it had no greater taint of fancy in it than Mrs. Gradgrind herself.  Let us strike the key-note, Coketown, before pursuing our tune.

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.  It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.  It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.  It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

These attributes of Coketown were in the main inseparable from the work by which it was sustained; against them were to be set off, comforts of life which found their way all over the world, and elegancies of life which made, we will not ask how much of the fine lady, who could scarcely bear to hear the place mentioned.  The rest of its features were voluntary, and they were these.

You saw nothing in Coketown but what was severely workful.  If the members of a religious persuasion built a chapel there—as the members of eighteen religious persuasions had done—they made it a pious warehouse of red brick, with sometimes (but this is only in highly ornamental examples) a bell in a birdcage on the top of it.  The solitary exception was the New Church; a stuccoed edifice with a square steeple over the door, terminating in four short pinnacles like florid wooden legs.  All the public inscriptions in the town were painted alike, in severe characters of black and white.  The jail might have been the infirmary, the infirmary might have been the jail, the town-hall might have been either, or both, or anything else, for anything that appeared to the contrary in the graces of their construction.  Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of the town; fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the immaterial.  The M’Choakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchaseable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.

A town so sacred to fact, and so triumphant in its assertion, of course got on well?  Why no, not quite well.  No?  Dear me!

No.  Coketown did not come out of its own furnaces, in all respects like gold that had stood the fire.  First, the perplexing mystery of the place was, Who belonged to the eighteen denominations?  Because, whoever did, the labouring people did not.  It was very strange to walk through the streets on a Sunday morning, and note how few of them the barbarous jangling of bells that was driving the sick and nervous mad, called away from their own quarter, from their own close rooms, from the corners of their own streets, where they lounged listlessly, gazing at all the church and chapel going, as at a thing with which they had no manner of concern.  Nor was it merely the stranger who noticed this, because there was a native organization in Coketown itself, whose members were to be heard of in the House of Commons every session, indignantly petitioning for acts of parliament that should make these people religious by main force.  Then came the Teetotal Society, who complained that these same people would get drunk, and showed in tabular statements that they did get drunk, and proved at tea parties that no inducement, human or Divine (except a medal), would induce them to forego their custom of getting drunk.  Then came the chemist and druggist, with other tabular statements, showing that when they didn’t get drunk, they took opium.  Then came the experienced chaplain of the jail, with more tabular statements, outdoing all the previous tabular statements, and showing that the same people would resort to low haunts, hidden from the public eye, where they heard low singing and saw low dancing, and mayhap joined in it; and where A. B., aged twenty-four next birthday, and committed for eighteen months’ solitary, had himself said (not that he had ever shown himself particularly worthy of belief) his ruin began, as he was perfectly sure and confident that otherwise he would have been a tip-top moral specimen.

Then came Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby, the two gentlemen at this present moment walking through Coketown, and both eminently practical, who could, on occasion, furnish more tabular statements derived from their own personal experience, and illustrated by cases they had known and seen, from which it clearly appeared—in short, it was the only clear thing in the case—that these same people were a bad lot altogether, gentlemen; that do what you would for them they were never thankful for it, gentlemen; that they were restless, gentlemen; that they never knew what they wanted; that they lived upon the best, and bought fresh butter; and insisted on Mocha coffee, and rejected all but prime parts of meat, and yet were eternally dissatisfied and unmanageable.  In short, it was the moral of the old nursery fable:

There was an old woman, and what do you think?
She lived upon nothing but victuals and drink;
Victuals and drink were the whole of her diet,
And yet this old woman would NEVER be quiet.

Germany Opens Up Free College to US Students

Guest Blog post for today:

I found this great blog post by a fellow education blogger — Maybe Hannah needs to go to Germany to get her Masters

James Rovira

Germany-665x385Yes, it’s true: US students who have a conversational knowledge of German have been invited to attend German universities for free. I would like to encourage all US students to take them up on this offer. Germany has some of the best universities in the world, and being centrally located in Europe, any student attending universities in Germany will have relatively easy access to Europe’s most significant cities. What an adventure.

Germany is able to make this offer because German universities are made up of, for the most part, libraries and classrooms, and because Germany doesn’t use federal tax money in the form of financial aid to support farm teams for professional sports that already generate billions of dollars a year in revenue (as if they couldn’t fund their own farm teams), and because Germany isn’t embroiled in massively unnecessary overseas wars, and because the German government isn’t spending more…

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The Times They Are A’Changin’

Backpacking Trip 09 003

I started a blog back in 2012 here on Word Press that I haven’t touched. A lot has happened since then in my life and at my job. I’m an English instructor at a community college in Western North Carolina. Since November of 2012, we’ve been through some radical systemic changes with which I have been involved–or not. Some I participated in willingly and some kicking and screaming. Some I started but someone else insisted on finishing. In the weeks to come I hope to share some of these changes with you–the good, the bad and the ugly.

But right now I have papers to grade and online classes to build. TTFN!