Archive for April, 2014

I’m a “Stranger in this world”

I have said this several times to my husband lately, I feel like a “stranger in this world.” Why would that be true? Because the path to destruction is wide but the way of salvation is narrow. If I am getting along with EVERYONE then that means that I am agreeing with what is going on with the righteous AND the evil. Yes, we ARE supposed to be aliens amongst all those who do not believe what we do. There are plenty in the education sphere, they have their own godless agendas.

The recent blow up of a teacher over my feedback letter to a kid is an example of this. She wrote two e-mails to my boss and called me a racist and that I had an agenda to destroy her kids. I was just using the scoring rubric the way I understood it. Whamo, I got knocked off. No more reading and rating of h.s. students essays, I have been asked to leave the organization. I’m okay about it, I am tired of reading essays that are poorly written.

I guess because I have become more picky about my own book, I expect that the vulnerable high school kids will want to get the same kind of feedback that I beg for from my readers. I want a good quality book for readers to read. I know that when my husband works with it, my essays always turn out so much better. So too the teacher should want to get feedback that would reflect on her teaching so she can improve and also in the end to help for the students’ sakes. On the contrary, I apparently do not follow the educational party line and I was a big meany with one or two kids from this particular class. Well, the rest is history.

That is fine, as the war rages in Ukraine, I have been distracted with what is happening to my former students. This is a life and death fight going on. I can’t be too concerned about a kid’s hangnails and other FWP (First World Problems.) with lack of self-esteem. We still live in the best country in the world. I hope they can keep it this way. Yep, I KNOW that even in my own country, I am still an alien in the spiritual sense.

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Play up strengths, tone down the criticism…check!

The following is what I wrote to my coordinators after I had refreshed myself on how to send a more encouraging feedback letter to young high school students. I admitted the error of my ways. But hopefully they will heed that our own scoring rubrics encourage us as raters to tell the students what we see in order for them to improve in their essay writing. I have not heard a response from my coordinators since I wrote to them. Hopefully this missive hit the mark.

I guess I have taken so much tough critiques from my husband and a newspaper editor friend of mine about my second book coming out in June, that I had forgotten my role as a reader and rater of fragile 11th grade students. I do not know what these teenagers are going through with cliques, bullying and feeling rejection perhaps in their own family. The teacher sees them day in and day out, we don’t.

I see after reading the website how I need to FIRST give the strengths of the essay, I have been remiss in this. Then provide some of the challenges (which I amply dole out) and then give helpful feedback about “strategies for improvement.”

I guess I’m so eager to get help from my own readers about my writing and change things as quick as they give them to me, that I forget that some young writers (and young teachers) are not willing to receive what may be perceived as insensitive and cruel feedback. I will say that words matter and from my own life experience overseas, “Ideas REALLY matter.” Ideologies have killed more people in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere where I have lived. Enough said.

Indeed, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be true in MY case. Words alone do not hurt unless the malicious intent is to harm people’s reputations. My pursuit in history and in global issues stems from my quest in learning more, being curious about my environment. According to the scoring rubric “Ideas” for a college ready writer should be “original and clear and generate and convey fresh ideas and avoid dull and obvious observations.” Slavery was bad 200 years ago and in the deep South, we all acknowledge that. Even so, prejudice continues today. We fought a terrible “civil” war over that issue, I have Norwegian ancestors who fought for the African Americans’ freedoms because they themselves believed in freedom so much! They came of their own volition to the “New Land” for greater opportunity.

According to the “Organization” of an essay that is college ready, the “structure and framework which the ideas are arranged should be smoothly and logically arranged…so that readers don’t get lost or confused.” Logic is very important, hopefully we have not lost that with our current educational system. I would hope that teachers would explain better about Argument essays having a claim and then counterclaim, pro and con. Argument essays should not be a slam dunk of just one side and I am seeing that in some of the essays that are submitted. From now on I will write you to have them changed to “Explain and Inform” if I see that happen again where the essay does not fit the criteria for “Argument.”

Definitely you will see an adjustment in my feedback letters as I will be using the scoring rubric more and inserting comments there when necessary.

Yes, a teachable moment for us all.

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Entitlement, Victim Mentality vs. Responsible Accountability

I just finished having an hour long conversation with a very sensitive coordinator who got some negative feedback from a high school teacher about my rating of their students’ writings. I don’t know who these students are, they don’t know who I am. Everything is anonymous and usually that is good, right? The teacher gets involved when the students feel hurt about the feedback I give. For instance, I may give a student a poor rating because their writing is not up to the level it should be. I am an outside, objective person who doesn’t know what the exact assignment requirements are, however, I DO know what a good essay should look like and read like. Then, I am finding out, when I give a negative on the writing it reflects poorly on the teacher.

Therefore, I have had the support of my coordinator thus far. He knows my work and appreciates what I write for feedback. However, he had to tell me that I have to curb my comments on the students’ ideas because I might be stepping on their toes. Some of them might be feeling down already and NOT confident in their writing abilities. Others, however, might be feeling over-confident in their writing skills. I told my boss that in some cases I see that the students are being passed on through and are ill prepared to go on to college. The high school writing teachers are overburdened with much pressure to succeed. I can only empathize with the teachers who are expected to perform well in getting the high school students up to a certain standard.

In my case, I wrote feedback challenging their thinking so that they would actively think about other perspectives. I KNOW some of them are just receiving the cookie cutter way of thinking and narrow scope. Whereas, I bring out my globalized thinking when it comes to human trafficking. It is an awful topic to explore but I believe it is something that the students need to think about and not how blacks were treated unfairly in ALL cases. This creates the entitlement attitude and also perpetuates the victim mentality. I am flummoxed why this has to be discussed when what is a present day problem is swept under the rug.

Suffice it to say, I have been reprimanded in a very kind way. I have gotten feedback from a stressed out composition teacher that she believes that I have a racist agenda. She is accusing me of things that are not true and is defending her students, they are theater types and probably the touchy feely types. Anyway, I think students need to learn these days about being accountable and responsible. They are not getting that lesson if they are whining about the rater’s score which is low. I don’t know, I think I will let this slide off my back. The coordinator thought I would be wounded by this. I was not. I pity the teacher, they are going through a difficult time trying to teach these kids to write better. I’ve been there and done that!

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A Real Book, a Real Conference and Heaven

This morning I enjoyed the supreme luxury of sitting in a hotel room after attending a conference yesterday. I presented on a topic that is very close to my heart, interviewing grandparents in order to capture the history before it is gone for good. Those who are older are perhaps closer to heaven than us middle aged, baby-boomer types. Though we never know when our assigned time to join God will be. I talked a bit about Writing Teacher’s Privilege, kind of like “White Man’s Privilege” where we can see into the hearts of our writing students through their compositions.

The privilege that I supremely enjoyed was to sit down with a book I have wanted to read for some time, “Heaven is for Real.” By some strange series of events, my husband borrowed the book from someone else and hadn’t gotten to it yet. I popped it into my suitcase knowing it would be a very quick read. I am glad I did since I also knew I would have some down time. I was expecting a good cry, that didn’t happen. But I did feel my faith in God confirmed.

Now, I am very interested in going to Ulysses, KS this summer for my husband’s class reunion. Those who have read the book already, will know why I have this sudden interest. With fair certainty, I am convinced that a photo in the book, that was taken in 1943, was probably done by my husband’s dad, a professional photographer. Strange that a book from a 4 year old’s perspective can have such an impact with TRUTH but that is what I had as a “take-away.”

Heaven is a real place and not everyone will be going there. I went to my sister’s Bible study the other night and we talked about that as a prevailing philosophy that everyone has this erroneous notion that ALL people, whether they believe in God or not, will end up in heaven. In the U.S. we already are enjoying so many of the privileges and luxury of heaven, we live in a Disneyland. Therefore, I’m not sure why people can assume that they will get more of the same, only better, once they die. For many people in the world who struggle in poverty or in modern day slavery, heaven is a hope for them to get away from the sadness and sheer misery they live in, day in and day out. Who will tell those who have NOT heard the Word, the good news, the gospel?

My husband and I do not know if we are going to Ukraine or not, things are on hold because of what the guy in Russia does. God knows the outcome there. The little boy in the book says there will be a final battle “Armageddon.” My husband and I have been there in Israel, it is called Megiddo, in the northwestern part of the country. It is amazing what we have seen with our own eyes, the physical location of this last great battle. I do believe it is around the corner. I believe Jesus is coming back soon and very soon.

Funny what a book, a conference that forced me away from my day to day activities will do to make me think of heaven. Indeed, a better place for those of us who believe in what Jesus did for us. According to Coulton Burpo, He has “markers” on His hands and His feet. God bless him and his family for bringing these truths out in a story that is sweet and sincere and TRUE!

“Here I am Lord, send me.”

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