Author Archives: drpezz

About drpezz

I teach English in a Washington State high school.

Easy Public Relations with Students and Parents

One thing I’ve realized during my career as an educator is that positive public relations are always good for my classroom. Really, isn’t that what Open House is? It’s a PR moment for the school–especially high schools–where parents frequently state they are intimidated to enter, and a chance for teachers to reveal their plans, the standards, and themselves in a short presentation.

However, I’ve also learned that PR comes in many packages.

One way I use positive word of mouth is to show films related to the content in my classroom. Occasionally, during an evening of the work week or on a weekend afternoon, I will show a film for my students to watch while I work on grading assignments or planning projects and the like. To get the students there, I offer extra credit, but I make sure that the points are a negligible amount having no real effect on students’ grades, or I will give students a ticket which, when redeemed, allows a student to retake a test or rewrite a paper (which I do anyway, but it’s about perception).

Plus, showing films is an excellent way to use a popular medium to provide enrichment opportunities while simultaneously showing students and parents that I sacrifice my personal time for students. We all do this. We grade student work on our own time, plan lessons and units, prepare assessments, and more on our own time, but this makes the time sacrifice a visible teaching moment for the students and parents.

Moreover, it’s a fun way to show students how the literature I teach connects to what they learn in class. For example, here are a few of my favorites:

Many other films work well with the literature I teach, especially when I teach American Literature, and the students enjoy coming to school for a fun activity. Since I’ve started having these movie nights and afternoons, I’ve have seen a difference in my students’ feelings about coming to my classroom and my parents’ attitudes about how teachers care about their kids. The comments I receive from the parents are heart-warming and they sometimes come to the movie nights too and bring snacks.

I don’t attribute all of my successes to these movie nights, but they are part of a larger series of positive PR moments that increase engagement in my classroom and word of mouth about my classes.

The Identification Test

I tend to give my students identification tests where the students must do three things with each person, item, or idea:

  • (1) identify the person, item, or idea and its place in the story;
  • (2) explain the importance of the person, item, or idea; and
  • (3) connect the person, item, or idea to a major theme in the story or to a literary device.

An excellent student example for The Bastille would be:

(1) The Bastille was a famous French prison known for its harsh conditions and for the number of prisoners unjustly sent there. (2) Dr. Manette was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years, and when the prison was destroyed Monsieur Defarge ran to 105 N. Tower looking for a buried paper. (3) The Bastille became a symbol of the nobles’ power and cruelty before and during the French Revolution; when it was destroyed, it became celebrated like our Independence Day.

Generally, the students do an excellent job of this, and this type of test hits on all sorts of state and local standards.

However, I gave four classes a test of identifications and three classes had an average of a B+ or better, but the fourth had a C average. This fourth class was one of feast or famine with A grades or F grades up and down the roster. The reason for their low scores is obvious; namely, most of the students in this class refused to study and did little to nothing to prepare.

Now comes the hard part: what do I do about this? Do I force them to keep their scores knowing that they did little to study? Do I provide an opportunity for the students to earn back some of the points by retaking the test?

I tend to vote for a chance to retake the test, but I need the students to prove they have prepared prior to taking the second exam.

What would you do?

Away at a Conference

I’m heading out of town for a conference, and I’m again amazed at how much time it takes to plan for absences. I will miss the last two days of school this week, and I finished my sub plans today and set up everything for my sub. This took over two hours!

Unless I provide a video and just let my kids be lazy for the two days, I have to put thought into the lessons that can be completed independently or lessons that my sub can implement (and that do not require any content expertise). This is a time consuming process. I rarely show films in their entirety, generally relying only on short clips that illustrate an idea or concept so this was a non-starter for me.

This is one of those duties which non-teachers do not understand. Planning for time away is not just handing a video to a glorified babysitter; it’s typing out instructions that can be enacted by an amateur where the lessons require little to no adaptation on the spot. The lesson has to be simple enough for the sub but complex enough to maintain student engagement.

Whew! Thank goodness that’s finished.

While I’m gone, I would like to recommend three blogs I enjoy reading. They are:

These are three (of a number of blogs I enjoy) which include regular, thoughtful posts on education issues. Enjoy!

Vocabulary Words Are All Around Us

Yep, that’s what I told my students: vocabulary words are all around us.

Frequently, I hear my students complain that they’ve never “heard this word” or have never “seen this word” and other such comments when we study new words. In the last month the students have received words, which they claim are never used, such as the following:

  • elegy,
  • obfuscate,
  • obloquy,
  • jingoism,
  • oeuvre, and
  • opus.

Thus, I said to the kids that I would bet them breakfast that within 10 days I would be able to bring in an example of each word in a pop-culture novel that I’m reading, a magazine I read regularly, or in a newspaper article in a local paper.

Mission accomplished!

I used Entertainment WeeklyRobopocalypse (a novel about robots turning on humanity), 11/22/63 (a Stephen King novel about time travel), and The Seattle Times to win the bet. The students were astonished.

Then, I challenged them to be honest and look for our vocabulary words in whatever they read whether that be a blog, a comic, a novel, a magazine, a newspaper, or other text. Truly, I did not expect the kids to take up this challenge, but within a week the kids (one class) had found 35 of the 40 words we’d studied so far.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels provided quite a few of the words, which greatly shocked the students. They realized that I wasn’t lying about the prevalence of these words and that the students often skip over unknown words without looking them up (or even recognizing that they skipped a word!).

I’m hoping the buy-in increases a bit. 🙂