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Teaching Faulkner: A Snopes You Can Believe In

Authored by James Vescovi, English teacher

For me, the best way to teach William Faulkner is to begin with the Snopes, that ornery, duplicitous, barn-burning family of itinerant farmers, blacksmiths, bigamists and bank presidents.  Faulkner does not come naturally to most high school students, and he can be particularly hard to decipher for born-and-bred urbanites, too many of whom see his backwoods people as little more than players in a freak show. The key is to get students beyond a character’s eccentricities to his or her nobility. Faulkner imbued in his people (even the dishonest ones) with a commendable ability to endure the tragic. If you can get students to cross that Rubicon, you’ll find they’ll begin to get Faulkner, even laughing with the characters as opposed to at them. My introduction to the Snopes family begins with two handouts: (1) a map of Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County; and (2) the Snopes family tree, both of which will help students find their footing in Faulkner’s world. Next, I show a 40-minute...read more

Topics: Faulkner, literature, English, teaching, James Vescovi

Teen Creed

Authored by Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

Teen Creed Don't let your parents down, They brought you up.   Be humble enough to obey, You may give orders someday.   Choose companions with care, You become what they are.   Guard your thoughts, What you think, you are.   Choose only a date Who would make a good mate.   Be master of your habits, Or they will master you.   Don't be a show off when you drive, Drive with safety and arrive.   Don't let the crowd pressure you, Stand for something- Or you'll fall for anything.   Stored somewhere in my parents' garage is the corkboard that used to hang in my teenage bedroom and later in my college dorm room.  On that corkboard, pinned with a pink thumbtack, is a 3 x 5 paper card.  Printed on this card is the Teen Creed you read above.  It is misshapen and discolored from being close enough to my mirror to be repeatedly coated with Aqua Net as I fixed my hair each morning. Now in my 30’s, I see that if I had only heeded these words instead of giving them a passing glance every now and then...read more

Topics: teenagers, life lessons, Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez

When Students Tire of the Written Word

Authored by James Vescovi, English teacher

New Yorker essayist Joseph Mitchell once wrote, “When things get too much for me, I put a wild-flower book and a couple of sandwiches in my pockets and go down to the South Shore of Staten Island and wander around awhile.” It is the first line in “Mr. Hunter’s Grave,” which relates Mitchell’s discovery of an old African-American burial ground still lovingly tended by a local minister.  In the same way, when reading and interpreting literature gets to be “too much” for my students, we, too, depart for someplace new—the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward. This usually occurs in mid-April, with summer looming on the horizon. Ward, who died in 1985, was an illustrator of adult books (such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) and children’s books (including Caldecott winner The Biggest Bear). In the 1930s, he wrote and illustrated with woodcuts six adult books of his own. He dubbed them “wordless novels,” and they depicted both the daily and the existential struggles of artists and working people....read more

Topics: English, teaching, art, James Vescovi

Online Courses - What They *Don't* Tell You

Authored by Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

We’ve all heard about online courses; ads tout them as the best way to accrue credits on your schedule, and they seem like a handy and cost-effective alternative to traditional classes. But it’s important to understand what you’re really buying into before you make a commitment. Even the best, most well-intentioned students struggle to complete online courses. I recently spoke with a parent about her daughter. I have first-hand knowledge that this girl is a serious student: she turns in all of her homework on time, she goes above and beyond in her assignments, and she is never late for class. She had attempted to take online courses early in her high school career because she takes performance classes 3-4 hours every day, making a traditional school day virtually impossible. Online courses seemed like the perfect option. Soon, however, this serious A-student got behind in her coursework and was in danger of failing! When there is no structure, other commitments start to encroach on...read more

Topics: Online course, tutoring, flexible scheduling, Maren Holmen

What's More Beautiful Than a Great Story?

Authored by Michelle Koza, English teacher

Why do we tell each other stories? For the English teacher, the similarities between fiction and our own lives are clear: both have protagonists and antagonists, characters, relationships, and conflicts. Like the novelist, we develop motifs and metaphors that color our experiences. Though these account for the “hows”, what of the “why”? The readings we have done in my Advanced English class suggest some answers. Whereas in our own lives there are no do-overs, in literature there is always room for following the alternate route. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech writer Milan Kundera, the author speaks directly to the reader.  The characters, he claims, are born of his own experience (how could it be otherwise?), but make different choices. Novel writing (and reading!) is an exploration of potentials. And in our silent conversation with the author, we peer into these alternate lives, hoping perhaps to find some version of ourselves among the pages.   Nietzsche’s The Birth of...read more

Topics: storyteller, English, Michelle Koza

Faculty Q&A with Visual Technology Teacher Cavin Thuring

Authored by James Vescovi, English teacher

Growing up in New York City, Cavin Thuring had always been proficient at math and physics and entered college planning to major in either—or both. After arriving at college, however, he changed course, setting his sights on a degree in linguistics, though eventually came to the realization that the life of a linguistics professor was not for him. He finally decided he wanted to major in art (at the time he was two courses shy of a B.S. in Mathematics and 4 courses of a B.S. in Linguistics). “I’d always loved drawing and the arts. It just seemed inconceivable to me as a career of it.” He graduated from Harvard College in 1989 with a degree in visual and environmental studies, relishing his class in drawing, design, and animation.   Cavin returned to New York and began working for a small production company where he wore many hats: animation, video and film editing. His goal was to make enough money to enroll for a graduate degree at CalArts in Los Angeles. By the early 1990s, however...read more

Topics: technology, faculty, teacher, James Vescovi, Cavin Thuring

What Should You Look For in an Alternative High School Program?

Authored by Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

There’s a lot of buzz around the term “alternative high school.”  Students (and their parents) who are not performing well in a more traditional setting are looking for other educational options that don’t sacrifice instructional quality.  But what should you be looking for when researching alternative education? Identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Is it just one or two subjects that are difficult, or is it multiple courses?  How does your child approach homework?  Is your child better at learning experientially, visually, or aurally?  Look through old comments on report cards or other teacher correspondence to get some guidance based on a history of educator observations. What works for one situation may not work for all situations.  As new initiatives like the Common Core cause many parents and students to search for options that aren’t as dependent on assessment, changing to another program that doesn’t have any assessments isn’t always the solution.  Some students do...read more

Topics: alternative high school, alternative education, transfer, Maren Holmen

How *Not* to Forget Everything over Winter Break

Authored by Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

Hooray!  Winter vacation is almost here!  Students throughout the country will be running out of school in the next week and gleefully forgetting everything that they’ve learned in the past four months of school.  Everyone needs a break, but here are some easy tips that will keep that information from melting away: Ask teachers for enrichment work.  Most teachers have worksheets that review material they’ve covered in their classes, and they are happy to share these with their students (or steer parents in the right direction for workbooks, online resources, etc.)  Some are even willing to give extra credit for work done over the break. Do a little bit every day.  This is something that teachers tell their students constantly: it is better to do work little by little over multiple days than to cram it all into one marathon session.  Whether you are learning a new language, tackling a big paper, or studying for a major exam, you will be far more successful (and retain a lot more) if...read more

Topics: vacation, studying, students, Maren Holmen

Beauty in Simplicity: Why I Teach Hemingway

Authored by James Vescovi, English teacher

The first beautiful thing about teaching Ernest Hemingway’s short stories is that a teacher is pretty much guaranteed that every student has read the assigned story by class time. That’s because Hemingway is so readily accessible, so seemingly simple. In fact, when I teach “Indian Camp,” the first story in the collection In Our Time, I tell students, with a straight face, that Hemingway wrote like a nine-year old. The tale is about a baby on an Indian reservation delivered by the father of the young protagonist, Nick Adams.   Called in in an emergency, Dr. Adams performs a Caesarian section with a jack-knife and sews the mother up with fishing line.  Hemingway writes, “His [Nick’s] father stood up. Uncle George and the three Indian men stood up. Nick put the basin out in the kitchen.” Pretty simple language. Had those lines been written in a creative writing class, the teacher might suggest that the student combine the first two sentences—you know, tighten things up a bit. But...read more

Topics: English, Hemingway, teaching, literature, James Vescovi

Faculty Q&A with English Teacher Michelle Koza

Authored by James Vescovi, English teacher

Michelle Koza comes to The Beekman School from the trenches of New York City public schools.  Born in Brazil to a Brazilian mother and an American father, she grew up loving books and left her home country in 2001 to attend Boston College, where she earned a B.A. in 2005. After working for a year, she attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, earning an M.L.S. in library science. In 2008, she was chosen to become part of New York City’s highly selective Teaching Fellows Program, which placed her in some tough inner-city high schools. How did you get into teaching? Even as a child growing up in Brazil, I knew that I wanted to read literature and bring great books to students for a living if I could.  When I landed in college in the United States, I set my sights on becoming an academic, though I soon saw that, with the job market flooded with English Ph.D.’s, it was going to be a tough road. So what did you do after graduating? In college, I’d worked in a fine arts library. My love...read more

Topics: English, private school, teaching, James Vescovi, Michelle Koza

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