Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Precipice

This week, I have kind of felt on the brink of a bit of a, well, breakdown. I'm now in my 4th week (!), and things have started to build up.

This past Monday, I handed back a giant stack of papers and such to both classes (thanks to Kelly, who helped grade a million crossword puzzles--I showed her to offer to help, haha!), but it has begun to kind of build again. I actually purposefully have held back on giving assignments, both because the students have been responding and because I don't have enough time to keep up with it all. A lot of the assignments I love (letter to the editor, rewriting a scene, etc.), but we have to decide what to cut and what to keep. This week, my English 10 students turned in their final projects and they'll hand in their journals on Friday. My Journalism students have had four things so far--two articles (one for school newspaper and another on the press conference) on Monday, an organizer for the editorial on Tuesday, and Friday they will have to turn in their editorial/column. I will probably also include some kind of interviewing assignment today and/or tomorrow.

Tomorrow Jill comes for her second observation (yipes!). Here is the novel I wrote for her (geez, why can't I just shut up?):


Molly Sutton

14 April 2005

Journalism / 5th Hour

Sorry about the recycled paper—boy, we kill a lot of trees as teachers, don’t we?

I have found that it is much easier to create a literature unit then to figure out an overall Journalism course, especially when it hasn’t been taught before, and I am creating things on my own. And, as I have said before, if I were to teach any elective, this would be at the bottom of any list for qualifications! I wish a little fairy could have gone to me a year or two ago and said, “Maybe you should take an Intro to Journalism class, or just audit one, because it might come up in your future…” Well, we can move this higher up on that list after teaching is done!

I’ll give you the expectations handout, so you can get an idea of the overall structure of the class, but here are a few notes that could help:

Oh, but before I mention that… they’re getting a new seating chart today. I first had them alphabetical, then when they were so good, I put them with their newsgroups. I have been having significant problems getting them to quiet down, put away photo albums, put away cell phones, and quiet down!! while I am talking, etc. So yesterday I announced that they were getting a new seating chart today; unfortunately, I’ll have to implement it while you’re there, but that’s good to see too. I will also probably have a brief “talk” with them about being respectful, etc. They’re a great bunch who listen (when they’re not listening to each other), but the group is mostly seniors who have made it clear to me that they have senioritis. (I’m going to include a photocopied article one student submitted to The Latitude for this class—she’s on vacation this week, but when she gets back, I’m going to talk to the class about how they may be accepted into college, but they still have to do well—once upon a time, a certain someone I knew got into college, was super-excited, failed her science class, and her acceptance was revoked. I won’t tell them that it was me, but the U of Wisconsin did this after my freshman year of college in late August of that year, so it’s not impossible for it to happen to them. They also need to know that they’re doing things not for the grade but for the learning experience—not that this will hit home for them, but it’s obviously the more important aspect.) It’s the last hour of the day, spring, with upper classmen. Great kids, just tough to keep on track sometimes!!

Anyway, the basic overview of the class—they are broken up into groups of three (and two groups of four). There are 29 students, one of which has an IEP, and two are ELL students. At this point, there are a lot of good grades—a good handful of A’s and B’s—and those who have F’s, have them because they haven’t turned in articles, not because their work is poor. (Actually, this is true for the English 10’s too—if you do the work, you pass the class. Maybe with a “D”, but you pass. Not too difficult.) Friday is the last day for late work thus far. I had given this as a deadline for my sophomores, which is good for me, though I’m still getting late work… most are from kids that have an IEP, were recently on an IEP, or are ELL/ESL, so I’ll let it slide, but not call attention to it.

For their trimester-long project, they pick their newsmagazine theme, which lets them be more involved, and they have to write articles based on these things. They have turned in and have had returned (yesterday) reviews, will turn in editorials/columns tomorrow, and we are currently working on features. Next week begins hard news, which I am excited about, because that will be the main thrust of their newsmagazines. Research, etc. They had a day in the library last week, will have one again on Monday (during the job fair—I both didn’t want to give Amy a complex lesson and didn’t want the students to have another teacher, the “real” teacher and compare), and have had two computer lab days. They have written their own code of ethics and mission statement.

They’ve learned some basics too—the inverted pyramid and what makes a story newsworthy. Who, what, when, where, why, how have been touched on, but we’ll look at them again in class today.

They’ve been doing press conferences every Wednesday (I changed it so you could see one, but I don’t think that threw them off), which trains them to take notes. Several students volunteer (they are excused from the article, which causes everyone to want to volunteer—I have decided they could sign up on the board, so I wouldn’t have to figure out who raised their hand first!), and the rest are the press corps, in charge of asking questions. They watched a video on Clinton’s last press secretary, so they got an idea of a professional version of what they do. I like doing this because they get involved, and it kind of tests all sorts of aspects of what they need to learn to do—questioning, note taking, inverted pyramid, etc.

On Tuesday, I read to them from The Bullfighter Checks her Make-up by Susan Orlean. I interviewed one of the students, ZJ (funny guy—I’m putting him back up front because he’s the big talker and said to me, “Ms. Sutton, you have to put me back in the front. It’s because I’m back here.”) and am currently finishing up a feature on him that I will have the students edit for me. I told them—instead of you having the homework to write a feature on him, I’ll give the homework to myself. But I want you to help me edit it to make it a more effective piece. This will ultimately help them later on when they have to edit each other’s pieces for the final newsmagazine (which will be published on the internet—I am excited about that!). I had originally said I’d give it to them yesterday, but that whole job-application thing kind of overtook me (and still, I have only finished actual applications to two places—stupid credential file issues). I also haven’t graded their tests from last week because there are two more to still take it, and I have been getting that every day “Did you grade it yet?” line of questioning. Yesterday I was able to give them back their reviews, and Monday they got a stack of things back, so it’s not a timely issue; I just want to grade it all at once so I’m not favoring those who took it earlier or later. I don’t know if I’ll get them done tonight to give them back tomorrow, since they’ll probably ask again today and tomorrow…!

Class today will focus on interviewing. Until now, they haven’t gotten any real concrete tips on interviewing, and since we are in the feature part of the class, it’s good for them to have an idea of what to ask when approaching people for the feature.

Rough outline, which will probably change slightly:


  1. Journal: Think of who you might interview for your feature and brainstorm questions
  2. Basic tips on interviewing
  3. Large Group Activity: Pre-written interview
  4. Small Group Activity: Mock interview
  5. Press Conference

If extra time:

(I’ll go into more detail, since you probably won’t see this—it will probably come tomorrow.

The Bullfigher Checks Her Makeup

(This will carry over, if we don’t get to it today, which I doubt…)

Read essay from book (I already read them to intro)

On poster (also known as back of book cover—for such a nice school, they really don’t have much by way of supplies and books), have three columns. Write what you know about the characteristics of fiction writing, news writing, and feature writing.

Activity will go on to explore creative nonfiction and how Orlean covers all of the above types of writing. Discussion will follow on when this kind of writing is appropriate, how it could fit into their newsmagazine, etc.

Students will then have to pick a person in their class (or school—probably class, though, as a kind of get-to-know-each-other-more activity) to do an interview with—find out personality quirks, etc. A reason to write a feature on them—students will turn in at least ten questions with notes as well as a brief feature article on them to practice for the feature that will be due relating to the newsmagazine.

Things that are already going well in the class:

Participation. Almost all (with exceptions) of the students are involved in asking questions, etc. They are a vocal class, which can be a downfall (hence, the new seating chart). For the most part, their writing is strong. After I read a batch of articles, I always follow that up with an overhead that outlines strengths and weaknesses overall. Yesterday I even read a few examples out loud to the class, which I think helped inspire the others to work harder (I know this was effective for me and some of my friends, but not for everyone) and reward those who did well.

Most students are good about turning things in, although there are a handful that I have had to talk to, and I focused on talking to those yesterday. I also know that for the most part, they are excited about this assignment, so I just have to work on keeping that energy and interest fairly high. If they are having fun, they will do well, and I will have fun. J I know that a lot of kids like to proclaim that a particular book is “BORING!”, and I have heard Amy tell them, “Well, that’s a great attitude to have. But we’re not really here to entertain you.” Which is completely true. Of course, all of us know that if the kids are “into” something, it works. And so often, kids are “into” Amy’s classes, so she’s a great model of turning a “boring” book into something entertaining for them. (Maybe this really needs to be in the ‘needs to work on’ category…)

Things that I know I need to work on and will probably need some sage J advice on:

An overall problem is that this class hasn’t been taught before, and I have no background in journalism. In fact, I haven’t read a whole heck of a lot of news stories—I’m not a big newspaper reader. I have, however, had a fairly decent background in creative nonfiction, so this is something that will come out especially during the features unit.

Amy has been so helpful and fabulous throughout this process. But I’ve been mostly sailing this ship on my own, if I could use an awful cliché. (I hate clichés—that definitely should have been on my last overhead. Next time!) Amy was actually a Journalism major as an undergraduate, a fact I learned just last week. I have had a few textbooks, some videos (from the 80s—haven’t used them yet, might not at all), and a great website called And that’s about it. It’s tiring and a ton of work. I don’t know if this is possible, but any advice on how to make it easier on myself… I’m trying to develop this aspect on my webpage—putting together a large overview of a Journalism class—in case anyone teaches it in the future. (Including myself.) Lots of random lesson plans are great and so helpful, but oy!

Another big problem which I am slowly but surely working on—their attitudes. Or rather, my reaction and “handling” of their attitudes. They’re a friendly bunch, who are very vocal, which works well for activities. I could “hot seat” them to death in any kind of literature unit. This sometimes works to a disadvantage. As I think you know, this was the class that had a few upsetting journal entries about how they haven’t learned anything, etc. As evidenced by the article I’m giving you, some have that whole senioritis thing going on, which I had too, so I can’t fault them for it. Some of the girls say, “Did we do anything interesting yesterday when I missed?” I told the student that she might want to rephrase that question and ask it again. They’re not polite, and I know (well, I’m remembering anyway) that the teenage years are highly ego-centric, but goodness, this class is certainly full of it. Don’t get me wrong—I really like them, but I also have a tendency to get mad at them too. Hence, the talk we’ll have to have at the beginning of class. Oh, and prom is coming up. That’s been a distraction. (Senior skip day is the day after—so I’m trying to plan for that too.)

I know I went overboard again and it wasn’t really a lesson plan but more of a letter… Sorry about that! If you want something more concise for next time, let me know. I just know that there will be some down time in class, so I thought reading this and the extra handouts might help you get some background so you can know where I need to go. (Luckily, my cover letters and applications are more concise—I’m capable, just not when I’m really excited about something or really need some serious advice, which is obviously the case here!)

Thanks so much for coming in! I think it’s interesting how the scariest thing, I thought, was having a supervisor in the room while teaching. My first experience was with Ms. Kraszewski, my junior year English teacher. I did my observations at my old high school, so I was able to revisit much of my own learning experiences. Of course I was nervous in front of her! That kind of judgment was two-fold. (She gave me a big hug afterwards and seemed to think I did well, though the adrenaline from that experience has basically erased all knowledge of what might have actually gone on in the class.) But I’ve been able to “ignore” you and Amy when you’re in the room, and I’ve felt really comfortable and fine having you in the room. I don’t think this is the same for principals or vice-principals. Or maybe it’s just a personality thing—you’re both so supportive and let us know what you think in ways that don’t make me feel like I’m failing, which is such a scary thing for me. It’s hard to not be “good” right away—it’s hard not to say, “Can we just rewind and re-do my entire unit? Because I have all of these great ideas that might work better on this group…” I know I’ll do it again and many literature units can be approached the same way, but it’s so hard to know that these particular students might not be getting the best. OK, so the point of that was to say thanks, I think. J I little meandering, but that’s what I do best! (Are my lessons as confusing as these lesson notes? I hope not!)


Sorry--it didn't copy and paste quite well.

Anyway, I am going to bed, as it's nearing beyond-late. Still not done with the Rochester application, though I did some work on it tonight before I realized I ought to write a bit of a note to Jill (why do I say "a bit" when I know it's the size of a small country?) for tomorrow and maybe fine-tune some of those plans...

I had originally thought of Jill's visit as another thing to list to those "stresses" (in case you haven't heard... ha ha, it's the Plains Area Regional conference work, the Praxis, working on Sunday, the job fair, the looming deadlines of applications--4/15!!!, and the fact that I have fallen depressingly behind in my Project Proposal class... not to mention STUDENT TEACHING), but I'm feeling decent about the lesson as it stands now (too often have I gone into school with a much rougher outline of a lesson) and Jill has such a good... well, for lack of a better way to put it (it's late, folks)--a good way of "putting things." (Lordy, if I were grading this blog entry, it would definitely get an "F." "Things"!? We just talked about using that word in class today...) I have so much room to improve, it's unbelievable, but I have never felt bad about the decisions I have made because of feedback from Amy or Jill. (Me and the students do enough of that "feeling bad" about how things are going thing... there's that word again.) Anyway, I have never felt nervous having them in the room... well, maybe a little, but only at fifteen second intervals. :) It's not a nerve-wracking thing, but a good thing, because Jill can help me improve on some of those weak areas I outlined.

I need another spring break. If, for nothing else, just to sleep. For more then five or six hours a night! It's almost one in the morning!!

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