Things My Students Say


by Christopher Paslay

Below are 10 winners that have come out of the mouths of my babes (when I say “babes” I mean my wonderful 10th grade students):

1.  “This is two pages.  I thought you said we were reading a short story?” 

Please forgive me.  I forgot that your generation grew up on emails, which, you know, were way too long and so were replaced by Instant Messages, which were also too long and replaced by text messages, which, like, are still acceptable but not as cool as “Tweets,” which take five seconds to read and require zero knowledge of grammar or Standard American English.  So allow me to rephrase the assignment: We are going to read a really, really long two-page short story.

2.  “I need all my make-up work. Now.”

Gotcha.  You want the “make-up work” that will allow you to get credit for 10 hours of class time—lectures, discussions, readings, journals, etc. in 10 minutes?  Right, that “make-up work.” I’m in the middle of teaching class right now, by the way, but don’t let my lesson on the themes in “Othello” impose on your dire need to “make-up” the last week-and-a-half of your education (which you missed because you were at The Gallery).  How about if I let you sign out a copy of “Othello” and run around and get all the assignments for you after class, so tonight, after you dump “Othello” in your locker, you can go to your friend’s house and copy/scribble everything from her?  Sound good?

3.  “What page are we on?”

I’m going to let you in on a little secret:  There’s this thing in the front of your book, it’s called a table of contents.  Yeah, that’s it.  Do you see those page numbers there, and the titles next to them?  Well, if you match the title of what we’re reading with that little number there . . . I knew you could do it!

4.  “We have a test today?”

No, I just wrote Reminder: Test this Thursday on the board all week because I like decorating my classroom with meaningless, hypothetical information.  When I said at the end of class everyday this week, “Remember, we have a test this Thursday” what I really meant was “Don’t study for the test because on Thursday, all we’re going to do in class is sit in our desks and watch YouTube videos on our iPhones.”

5.  “This class is easy.”

Of course it’s easy—when you don’t do anything.  I can’t imagine keeping-up your 50% average in here is that difficult.

6.  “I never got that.” 

You never got a copy of the assignment?  Really?  And you’re just telling me now, the day it’s due?  That’s funny, because I distinctly remember you sitting right there in your desk when I handed it out.  Now, maybe I was hallucinating that day, or maybe when I handed you the homework assignment I was really giving it to your twin brother who just returned from the French Foreign Legion, but I doubt it.  Why don’t you check in your bag and see if you have it?  There it is!  What do you know about that!

7.  “Can’t we watch a good movie?” 

Sure, we could watch what you call a “good” movie, but if we did so I’d have to throw my lesson plans into the garbage along with all the instructional objectives listed in the Common Core Standards.  Yes, “Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter” does have Abe Lincoln in it, but this doesn’t quite meet the district’s educational requirements for history or literature.  The same goes for “Piranha 3DD” (that’s DD as in brazier size), and “Zombie Dawn.”

8.  “You ain’t my dad.”

I should hope not.  If I were your dad I’d have to confront your mom and demand a paternity test ASAP, because I’ve never seen your mother before in my life (not even at parent-teacher conferences).  No, me talking to you in an authoritative voice and demanding you exhibit some semblance of character and/or core values doesn’t make me your da-da, although I’d like to have a word with your da-da, because obviously, he is either 1—asleep at the parenting switch; or 2—not in the picture at all.

9.  “It’s hot in here.” 

Being that you have on a red hoodie, a blue hoodie, and a big old puffy winter coat, I would image it is.  Maybe you might consider losing the big puffy winter coat?  Just a suggestion.

10.  “Do you miss our class?” 

(To those students who were lovable hemorrhoids, but hemorrhoids nonetheless): Yes, I miss you guys.  I cry every night.  (To those students I truly miss): Yes, absolutely, you guys are the reason I became a teacher.

Apple and Twitter: Hampering education and ruining work ethic



by Christopher Paslay


In the Philadelphia School District, teachers are often evaluated on their use of technology in the classroom.  Administrators want to know if we’re using laptops and Smartboards—if we’ve completed the latest training to bring us up to speed on Governor Rendell’s Classrooms For The Future—and if we’re taking full advantage of educational resources on the internet.


The theme seems to be the same in the world of business: Success is equated with the latest technology.  If you don’t have the newest version of the Blackberry or iPhone—the one that sends real-time stock quotes along with up-to-the-minute baseball scores—then you are living in the stone ages.     


But not all technology is positive, and as educators, we must resist the urge to buy into the hype and accept it blindly.  I could go into a long-winded lecture about how electronic gadgets are killing our willpower and destroying our attention spans (not to mention how they are preventing us from living in the present moment), but I don’t want to go into that here; I’ll save that rant for another time.


What I do want to talk about are Baby Shaker and SpreadTweet, two examples of how technology is having a harmful effect on education and ruining work ethic in America.


Let’s start with Baby Shaker, the Apple multimedia application that allows users to shake their iPhone and in the process, silence the crying baby on the screen.  Although Apple apologized and removed the program from their website because of complaints from child welfare groups, it’s inconceivable as to why Apple would have placed a game like this on the market in the first place.


For those who think Baby Shaker was just a harmless gag, they should understand what researchers in early childhood education have been saying for decades: the formation of a child’s IQ has a direct correlation to their interaction with their parents in infancy.  A child who grows up in a home where his parents smack or shake him (as opposed to a home where his mother and father communicate non-violently), will not develop the vocabulary and reading comprehension skills to keep him on grade level. 


So what does Apple’s Baby Shaker say about our society?  What does it say about parents and their ability to make their children school ready?  Call me behind the times, but Baby Shaker isn’t the best tool for improving education in America.


Then you have SpreadTweet—the latest creation for the trendy Twitter, the web-based communication service that allows people to stay connected to friends and celebrities through the exchange of quick, frequent, one-line text-messages. 


When you subscribe to someone on Twitter, every time they send out a “Tweet” (a quick one-line text), you receive the message. 


If Brittany Spears “Tweets” that she just got a sunburn, or if Snoop Dog lets it be known he just smoked a big fat blunt, you’ll get the message.  Now multiply that by 50 celebrities and 75 of your friends, and you’ll be getting Tweets non-stop all day long.


But what happens to your Twitter addiction at work, when it’s time to head to the office?  Well, tech geeks have got that all figured out.  A maveric web designer recently created SpreadTweet, a page on your computer that looks like a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet.  According to a recent posting on AppScout, a technology website that reviews computer applications and other software, “If you’re a Twitter addict but work in an office that doesn’t condone your tweeting habits, you have a few options: You could actually do work; you could make yourself paranoid by looking over your shoulder as you post, or you could download SpreadTweet, an Adobe AIR-based Twitter client that looks exactly like a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. It’ll let you post to Twitter freely, and when the boss walks by behind you, he’ll think you’re working—as long as he  doesn’t lean in to see which spreadsheet you’re working on.”


It’s only a matter of time before a wise-cracking web geek creates a similar page for students who want to Tweet their friends while working in the school library.  Instead of a spreadsheet, all these unconscionable techies need to do is build a page that looks like a phony research paper or chemistry project, and even more teachers will be on their students’ pay-no-mind-list. 


Not all technology is positive.  As educators, we must guard against the insidious effects of the latest software and electronic gadgets, and demand that big corporations have some moral fiber and stop pandering to society’s lowest common denominator.   


Computers distract from craft of writing


 Note: This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 8th, 2006.




by Christopher Paslay


Although technology has brought many advancements in education, computers are beginning to have a negative impact on students’ writing skills.


Years ago, before programs such as WordPerfect and Microsoft Office, teenagers actually needed a pen and paper to do a writing assignment. They also needed a dictionary, note cards, and a roll of quarters to photocopy any books, magazines or newspapers they planned to use as source material. Not in the 21st Century.


The traditional five-step writing process — prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing — has slowly evolved into a system of shortcuts made possible by the Internet and state-of-the-art word processing programs.


Prewriting, the most fundamental step in writing a paper, has become the “Google Search.” Instead of using charts and diagrams to explore and develop ideas, teenagers can type their topic into an Internet search engine and press “enter.” In seconds, thousands of “hits” (links to Web pages) become available for students to use instead of articulating their own ideas.


Drafting and revising, steps two and three of the writing process, also have been compromised as a result of technology. Why would a teenager write out his entire paper on a piece of loose leaf when he can type it directly into the computer? Why would he go back and complete a second draft (which entails re-writing the entire paper) when he can cut and paste on a word processor?


Technology also has made editing, the line-by-line proofing of an essay, obsolete. Not many teenagers are going to use a dictionary and red pen to correct their spelling errors when running a “spell check” can do the same thing in a tenth of the time.


Which brings us to step five, publishing. Designing a paper’s cover page, especially in the primary grades, used to be half the fun. It involved colored pencils and construction paper and fostered a student’s creativity. Now, all a student needs to do to create a cover page is to download some clip-art, choose a fancy font and hit “print.”


Students today are a product of an instant gratification society. Writing a quality paper takes time, and most teenagers aren’t willing to make that sacrifice. Like steroids in major league baseball, technology has become a way for students to cheat — to bypass hard work and cut right to the end result.


School teachers should be aware of this and make a conscious effort to reinforce the traditional five-step writing process.


For starters, prewriting should begin with brainstorming. Forget the information on the World Wide Web, or what ideas can be borrowed from a search engine. Prewriting should be rooted in a student’s own experiences, so he can communicate a part of himself in his paper. Spending time on self-reflection and jotting down whatever comes to mind is a good way of doing this.


Drafting and revising should be done the old fashioned way, with a pen and paper. Hand writing a first draft enables students to get their thoughts and ideas down on paper in chunks, without the temptation to edit along the way. Doing so preserves a student’s voice, allows them to put their work down for a day or two and then go back to it with a fresh perspective.


Of course, when students edit as they go along (like so many do when writing on a computer), they often feel a piece of writing is finished after the first draft, and forgo making any corrections. This is why the editing phase should also be done by hand. Forcing students to edit by hand helps them gain a command of the English language. It also reinforces grammar, spelling and sentence structure, and helps strengthen their writing style.


Computers and the Internet are not a replacement for hard work; they’re just supplements. We as teachers must go back to the basics, and ensure that all students have a proper command of the written word.


YouTube Videos Serve as Tutor for Struggling Students

Today I read an interesting article in the education section of USA Today about teachers posting math and science videos on YouTube to help tutor students. 


“Math videos won’t rival the millions of hits garnered by laughing babies,” the article states, “but a YouTube tutorial on calculus integrals has been watched almost 50,000 times in the past year. Others on angular velocity and harmonic motion have gotten more than 10,000 views each.”


This is an extremely interesting concept.  It’s blending core subjects with technology, and using a medium many students know well.  This is something I might try in the future.  I could video tape a quick lesson on grammar or the writing process from my home (or the basics of any lesson, for that matter), and post it on YouTube to help some of my struggling students. 


This could also work for students who’ve missed the lesson because they were absent from class. 


To read the full USA Today article, “Need a tutor? YouTube videos await,” click here.