No-Nonsense Teaching and Narratives of Enslavement

Just. Say. Sit Down—his voice buzzed into my earpiece—Stop saying ‘Please.’

No, I was never in the secret service. This was a teacher training program. From the back of my classroom, my “real-time coach” whispered into a microphone, a notebook covering his face so students couldn’t hear. If it sounds like a bizarre setup, it was. While it’s always helpful to have another set of eyes on the room, this coaching was directed at reforming my language. Yes, I suffered from a particular linguistic afflictionone that was ostensibly leading to noncompliance in my classroom: my propensity for “permission seeking language.” I asked too many questions, made requests instead of commands, and had the gall to say “please” and “thank you” to the students in my classroom.

No-Nonsense Teaching

A recent NPR article outlined the increasingly popular “No-Nonsense” teaching method. In this approach, teachers manage their classrooms through explicit directives, minimal praise, and 100% compliance. To. The. Letter.

“Your pencil is in your hand. Your voice is on zero. If you got the problem correct, you’re following along and checking off the answer. If you got the problem incorrect, you are erasing it and correcting it on your paper.”

The piece calls the approach a “unique teaching method [that] empowers teachers to stop behavior problems before they begin.”

But last week, the NYTimes released footage of a teacher at Success Academy, a No-Nonsense charter network, berating a 1st grade classroom for struggling with math. Continue reading

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Tips for Teaching Abroad

TravelThis week, I ran a workshop for college students thinking about teaching English abroad after they graduate. It’s been a wile since I was on the teaching abroad circuit, but for those interested in this life-changing opportunity, I hope this information will be helpful.

For those more up to date than I, is there anything I missed? (Keep in mind this workshop was directed toward newly minted college graduates with little to no work experience.)

Take Your Teaching Career Abroad! 

Congratulations on your decision to consider teaching abroad. My name is Chris Bacon. After college, I did the Peace Corps in Morocco, taught ESL in South Korea, and tutored my way through South America and the Middle East. 

The information below is based solely on my own experiences – so definitely do more research for yourself. But since the possibilities can seem endless, hopefully this information will help you narrow down the field. 

FAQ’s

How long should I go? 

Programs vary, but worthwhile programs often want a commitment of at least a year. (This is a good sign – you may not want a “revolving door” program that’s ok with people coming in/out as they see fit.)

Be warned though, many people tend to love this lifestyle and extend for multiple years in multiple countries!

Will this look like a “gap” in my resume?

Absolutely not. No matter what field you enter, employers will be interested in talking to you about this experience. It’s a powerful way to differentiate your resume from everyone else that also has a college degree, a high GPA, and countless extracurriculars. I did the Peace Corps almost a decade ago and it’s still comes up at almost every job interview.  Continue reading

Don’t Know Much About Poetry

Poetry

Of all my shameful English teacher confessions—skipping over Shakespeare, celebrating “non-standard” grammar, and letting students curse in narrative essays (but only twice; make em’ count)—I’m most embarrassed by the fact that, honestly, I’m not that into poetry.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s the hardest genre to write (in academia, economy of words is not our strong suit). But for some reason, to me, a lot of poems sound like they’re working too hard to sound like their genre. It’s odd, but sometimes poems just sound too much like poems.

Which is why I admire Tony Hoagland. I’m not literary enough to put my finger on it, but his poems don’t sound like they’re trying to be poems—they just are.

Recently, in a conversation about the many useful words that simply don’t exist in English, I remembered this particular gem of Hoagland’s.

There Is No Word
BY TONY HOAGLAND

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits. Continue reading

Rating Instructors by Gender

Male and Female

School-culture-comparisons are one advantage of the BA -> MA -> PhD track of perpetual studenthood. And at every Higher Ed. institution I’ve attended, at some point, someone has made a common observation: In general, it seems that more students call their female professors by their first names, while referring to male professors as Dr. So-and-so. 

It’s a subtle difference, but it has been a fairly consistent trend. There can be many reasons for this difference—some say male professors come off as more distant, or that female professors are more approachable and more frequently ask their students to use their first names—but the point is that there’s a definite difference.

NPR recently did a story about the work of Bennjamin Schmidt, a professor at Northeastern University, who created a database of reviews from Ratemyprofessors.com, a popular site where students can (you guessed it) rate their professors. Schmidt’s database allows you to type in any word to see how often it’s used in reviews of male vs. female professors by subject area. For example, here’s the chart for the word “funny.” Continue reading

Whose Canon is it Anyway? (Part II)

shakespeare copyLast week, I posted about questioning the literary canon, and got some fabulous responses. This week, we’ll look at two more arguments for/against the canon. As a refresher, the “Top 4” arguments were:

1. These texts are part of our literary heritage. 

2. Great literature must stand the “test of time.” 

3. Some books are truly just better than others.

4. The themes of great works transcend time and culture.

Most taught high school books

Source: The Center for Learning and Teaching of Literature

We discussed the first two arguments last week. Now it’s onto numbers 3 & 4!

3. Some books are truly just better than others. Arthur Krystal discusses embracing a plurality of texts in a recent article for the Chronicle of Higher Education called, “What do we lose if we lose the canon?” 

“While there is nothing wrong (and perhaps something even right) in praising those whom previously we shunned, a law of diminishing returns kicks in once we stop making distinctions between the great and the good. It’s one thing to acknowledge the subjective factors of canon-building and another to obfuscate the aesthetic underpinnings of works created by human beings who invest time, skill, talent, and knowledge into making a novel or poem…. Some books simply reflect a deeper understanding of the world, of history, of human relationships, of literature itself than do other books….”

I do agree with his statement; I am in no way advocating that students read only what’s easy and popular at the time. However, while I agree that Continue reading

Whose Canon is it Anyway? (Part I)

ShakespeareConfession: In all my years teaching English, I have never chosen to teach Shakespeare (inbox: brace for hate-mail). It was never really a conscious choice – I have nothing against the Bard; I just knew my students had been/would be exposed to his work and I had other texts I wanted to teach.

Making book choices is a painful process – for teachers and readers alike. Choosing a book is exciting, but it also inherently necessitates choosing to an entire wealth of authors, stories, and perspectives out.

So what’s the go-to literary answer? READ THE CANON. What is the canon? Well see for yourself: Here are the 10 “Most Taught” books in US High Schools (followed by the percentages of schools that reported using them).

Most taught high school books

Source: The Center for Learning and Teaching of Literature

I’m sure you’ll quickly notice how white (all) and male (all except To Kill a Mockingbird) the authors are, but I was also surprised that none of these books were written within the last half century. It’s disturbing to think that, in such a rapidly changing world, our English course lists look largely the same as one from a pre-Sputnik classroom of the 1950’s. Our perspectives on literature – and arguably reality – therefore remain shaped by the same 10 dead anglo-authors.

As a former English teacher, I’ve heard a lot of arguments for the preservation and value of “the canon.” Here are the top four: Continue reading

Finding That ‘Perfect’ Word

Everyone’s had trouble finding that elusive, “just right” word, especially when it comes to writing. I just came across this chart, created by English teacher Kaitlin Robbs: Tired of hackneyed emotion adjectives – either in your own writing or student work? Just slap this sucker up on the wall and your problems are solved.

word chart

But – one caveat – be careful about when you use it. My usual approach when I’m drafting and can’t think of the right word is to type a completely random string of letters and come back to it later. It may sound strange, but I know if I break my workflow for a “quick” word-quest, I’ll derail my writing momentum. Then I’ll need to steam up the engine all over again to get the ol’ writing train back on track. So instead, I just write something like, “The author described the intervention as afwoeifjwe to educational achievement,” and worry about it later.

Or, when I have a particular meaning or image in my mind, but can’t Continue reading