Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Talks Good

Yesterday, during a conference with a parent, I received a complaint. This is rare for me, considering I am a contender for the greatest teacher that ever walked the planet, but a woman in her thirties must deal with these occurrences when they arise. The complaint was that I am teaching her daughter vocabulary words that 'no one ever uses in real life'. While it would be tempting for me to just make a list of the words so you all judge for yourself, I'm not sure that would be sufficient. Instead, I will regale you with my story.

My first instinct was to think back to the list of words I'd been testing my students on, words taken directly from the text we are reading. 'Really?' I asked, bewildered. 'Really,' she said. 'I read a LOT. I even called a friend who has a college degree. And SHE didn't even know half of those words.'

As a teacher, I must provide justification for what I do in the classroom. I have always considered myself fairly adept at this, and I think it's one of the best ways of reaching an indifferent high school student. Why do we have to learn the five paragraph essay? Because when you entreat your boss for a raise when you go into the workforce, he or she will be appalled if you can't provide evidence supporting why you deserve it.

So it was a little disconcerting that this parent would assume that I was teaching these words on a whim. However, a woman in her thirties thinks about things from other people's points of view. Perhaps these really were difficult vocabulary words. Perhaps she is not enticed to use a large profusion of vocabulary to express herself. I tried to understand her anguish, and assured her that the more vocabulary her daughter could learn with me, the better.

No matter how useless the vocabulary was.

There is no doubt that we are in a dire state when it comes to education in this country. It is easy for a student to succumb to peer pressure, and for a parent to feel overwhelmed watching their savings account dwindle as they help their child through college. But at the end of the day, I believe that the high school experience is about opening doors. My quest as a teacher is to work every day to help each student make that happen. It is a ponderous burden, and ultimately one of the most important jobs in the world.

But here's the thing: even the wiliest teacher can't do it herself. She needs the support of the parent community. She needs to open the doors of communication and be able to take constructive criticism. And maybe this woman had a point. Who was I to look upon her with disdain? Perhaps I have been locked in my own bubble of academia for too long. Perhaps I am the vile teacher I never wanted to be, teaching my students words that will be of no use to them in their lives.

It's hard to know for sure, but upon considerable reflection I have come to the realization that I need to stand by my teaching. Call me crazy, but I think the words I've been teaching these kids come up in daily life. Maybe not in the 'LOLs' and 'WTFs' of Facebook, but in other ways.

I can't think of them right now, but I'm sure I will eventually.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a picture of my formidable belly, in words I hope will be intelligible to the masses:

37 weeks tomorrow- OMFG!!


  1. Um, is anyone else more concerned for our country than ever before?

    I can't BELIEVE a parent would *admit* they think their high school students' vocabulary words are too difficult, or irrelevant!

    Quest? Succomb? Adept? WHIM? Yeah, you're hella mean. :P

    On another note-- look at that belly!!! (And the crib looks awesome. :)

  2. Ummm.... I had to use a dictionary for most of this post.....

    God help my children.

    I'm glad you think I'm funny. And you love me.

  3. No matter how many stellar conferences I may have had on any given night, the ONLY ones I would remember were those filled with any criticism whatsoever.

    I like your vent here -- it is more than obvious to a fellow teacher and parent that more is better in the vocabulary department. Still, it hurts to be critiqued when you spend so much time and energy developing what you know to be a solid and relevant curriculum.

    And now? On to bigger and better things. Like bringing a child into this world.

  4. I sure wish I had a teacher in high school that had effectively taught me vocabulary... I would probably use the words "stuff" and "things" less. ;) And I agree with Ali - it doesn't matter how many good comments you get... it's only the negative ones that stick, right? Which is really dumb.

    I LOVE THAT BELLY!! Can't believe she's going to be here so soon!!

  5. As a college student I can say that I know and recognize all of those words, that mom is crazy. I can't believe she insulted your intelligence like that though. What was the last book she read, Twilight?

    I kind of want to see that list lol.

  6. A vast vocabulary makes for succinct and efficient conversation.

  7. I lOVE that pciture! Can't wait for Chewy to come!

  8. OK, I am wayyyyy behind on my Reader and just now saw this. And all I can say is whaaaaaa? I guess I must not be living in "real life," because I see many of these words on a regular basis. And even if they were obscure words (which they're not), what parent *wouldn't* want their child to have the largest possible vocabulary? I do not understand that at ALL.

    LOVING your beautiful Chewy belly! And the crib you guys chose looks lovely!

  9. Two thoughts...
    1) This is far and away one of my most favorite posts of all time.
    2) In light of your previous post re: maternity bras-- one of the MANY temporary joys of your 37 week belly? Your boobs actually look small in comparison! :-)