Archives For Odyssey

Ode on Grading (Earned)

January 28, 2013 — 2 Comments

The semester just ended, and there are papers to grade. In addition, the midterms are done, and there are essays and papers to grade. I am surrounded by paper. A recent article titled “Why Teachers Secretly Hate to Grade Papers” by John T. Tierney in The Atlantic received quite a bit of buzz, with most teachers flat out saying, “Secretly? There is nothing secret about our hating to grade!”

The article discussed the inability to be fair when grading, but I particularly enjoyed the following paragraph:

The sheer drudgery and tedium. When you’re two-thirds of the way through 35 essays on why the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland is important for an understanding of the development of American federalism, it takes a strong spirit not to want to poke your eyes out with a steak knife rather than read one more. I have lots of friends who are teachers and professors. Their tweets and Facebook status updates when they’re in the midst of grading provide glimpses into minds on the edge of the abyss — and, in some cases, already deranged.

Since several of my classes are deep in the Odyssey, the “poke your eyes out” reference kicked all my Greek allusions into high gear. Consequently, instead of full-fledged blog post that will drain me of the minutes I have before grades are due, I leave you with a quick poetic attempt to capture my grading frustration:

Tantalus Has It Easy

My desk is piled high
with papers and essays that had been assigned
during the Christmas break,
when Dawn spread her rosy fingers on the
new year calendar empty of responsibilities.

Sing in me, Muse, and tell me
What was I thinking? an invocation I repeat
with each carefully completed grading rubric
stapled to a hastily penned paper.

More than one paper bears the correcting
suggestions I had made days ago without
the corrections I suggested. I am Cassandra,
unhappy prophetess whose warnings
go unheeded.

I hear a teacher’s scantron sheets
click noisely in the teacher’s room next door.
“Grading’s done,” he chortles, while I am
caught between the Scylla of unintelligible answers
and the Charybdis of illegible handwriting.

I see the PE teacher leaving early to workout
the stress of the week at the local fitness club.
Apparently, fate favors
the Olympically-sculpted

While I, like Sisyphus,upload_6i2s45k8nordin9cemradc8sv7249883.jpeg-final
reach for another paper to roll up
the grading curve.

David Weisner’s Tuesday is one of the funniest picture books ever. Really. Watch the video. The funniest pictures, ever, hands down.  The few words in this picture book are only for context when an invasion of frogs floating on lily pads invade a small town on a Tuesday night.

I was so happy when I found a copy for $.25 at the New Milford Public Library book sale this summer. I have a well-worn hardcover of my own that I do not want to lose; this paperback will be perfect to share in class. Wiesner’s picture book is ideal to start the 9th grade mythology unit which leads up to students reading Homer’s Odyssey (Fitzgerald translation).

Our 9th grade curriculum centers on the idea that stories make us human, so our freshmen will spend the year studying the elements of stories and archetypes. For example, in each story they read, they will be able to identify the “call to action” and the moment the protagonist or hero “crosses the threshold”. They will recognize the “challenges” for the hero as being a repeated pattern, especially when the hero is confronted with “temptations”. The students will be familiar with the ideas of “redemption” and “atonement” as the hero travels on the journey from the comfort of the known world to the trials of the unknown world. They will develop an appreciation for the wisdom of the hero’s mentor and the importance of the “elixir” that helps the hero succeed.  They will look for these patterns in the stories they will read throughout high school.  They will review myths as traditional stories that are accepted as history which serve to explain a phenomenon. The flying frogs in Tuesday are most certainly a phenomenon.

We want the students to appreciate the “call to adventure” as demonstrated in the lily pads which lift the frogs from their “known” locale, the swamps and ponds outside the town to the “unknown” territories of living rooms. We want students to predict consequences as the  lilypads float the enthusiastic frogs literally “cross the threshold” of many of the homes.

We also want them to enjoy how Wiesner’s frogs cheerfully wave at disbelieving occupants or cavort using the lily pads as F-16s performing barrel rolls in backyard airspace, while other frogs sit comfortably and devise methods for changing channels in order to watch late night TV. We want them to note how all the frogs are “transformed” from their natural swampy state into comical caricatures.

The flight of the frogs is “challenged” by sheets hung on laundry lines or more directly by a slobbering guard dog. The frogs’ inexplicable journey is cut short when the “elixir” that made this incident possible mysteriously ends the spell. The frogs return to their “known” habitat. The mystery of the remaining lily pads scattered on the concrete roads and sidewalks all over town is wonderfully illustrated in the perplexed look on a detective’s face. Weisner uses a Orsen Welles look-alike in a rumpled raincoat who puzzles holding a dripping wet lily pad, a cadre of police officers and bloodhounds behind him ready to track down the invaders.

Tuesday, by David Wiesner (New York: Clarion, 1991)

Tuesday will provide the students an opportunity to “write  the myth” of what made the frogs fly. The student will need to reference the illustrations in the text as evidence in creating their own personal myth about the flying frogs. We are interested in the explanations the students will need to develop for why the lily pads floated so effortlessly from the pond.  How will the detective explain the limp lilypads strewn around the streets and sidewalks? What predictions do they have for the next possible phenomenon? Some early suggestions started in class are:

  • A new species of lilly pads grew legs and carried the frogs all over the town
  • The lily pads are lunar charged when the moon comes up, then when the sun comes up, the power wears off.
  • Lily pads were made radioactive when a battery fell off the space shuttle into their pond

David Wiesner’s picture book Tuesday provides my students an opportunity to identify universal story elements and create their own myths for the phenomenon of the hilarious frog invasion. This year is the year when they will recognize the elements of this story are the elements in all of literature.  Thus, the picture book Tuesday prepares students for the epic poem The Odyssey, where the equally magic flights and fantastic adventures of the hero Odysseus await their explanations.

But before we start out for Ithaca, we had to spend Tuesday with some frogs.