Sunday, January 29, 2012

To catch a plagiarist

This week I find myself identifying with these words spoken by Liam Neeson in the movie, Taken.

"What I do have are a very particular set of skills.  Skills that I have acquired over a very long career.  Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you."

The background: Before we went on winter break, in fact, about 10 days before the break started I assigned a winter break project.  I've learned from experience that kids tend to stop coming to school in the few days before a break, so, if I want everyone to do the break project, I need to tell them way in advance.

The project: To choose from a provided list of holidays and celebrations in Spanish speaking countries and write a 3 page research paper, including a picture.  I had an awesome list of both holidays related to religious celebrations and non-religious celebrations, holidays from a wide variety of Spanish speaking countries, holidays that had to do with fashion, or animals, or food.  In other words, at least one of these holidays should have appealed to every student.  I also had a list of suggested things to write about.

The details: Once again my experience kicked in.  Although this assignment is for a Spanish class, I asked for my students to complete the assignment in English.  Why?  I explained to them, they simply don't have the level of Spanish required to complete a research paper, they are not behind where they should be, in fact, very few 2nd year Spanish students would be able to take on such a challenge, and be successful.  I told them that in the past, students have used online translators or asked Spanish speaking friends to "help" with their assignments, both scenarios that would earn them a 0 that I wanted to avoid completely.

I even wrote at the bottom of the assignment sheet, "Please refer back to our classes plagiarism policy which can be found at the end of the student contract you and your parents signed in September."

Unfortunately I think the warning is where I went wrong!  I'm pretty sure my students read to the end of the assignment and read the word "plagiarism" and thought to themselves: "Oh yeah! I'll just do that! I don't need to do my project at all."


I caught so many plagiarists! For an assignment written in English! It was ridiculous.  It was so easy, I didn't even have to go into many of my skills acquired over many years à la Liam Neeson's character.  The kids who plagiarized pretty much all used the same websites, wikipedia being one of the top ones, and despite having a list of about 20 holidays they all wrote about the same three or four.  Super easy, super frustrating.  When I suspect plagiarism, I turn to trusty google, and type in the phrase.  If it comes up, fabulous.  I print the website, get out my highlighter and highlight everything that has been copied.  I staple everything together and return it to the student with an explanation and a purple 0.

Some kids actually plagiarized the entire three pages. I am shocked and appalled.  I'm also a little offended that they didn't think I'd question their continued use of the word "lorries".  Really guys?

I had one girl come to me crying, because this grade counted in the test/quiz/project category, students who plagiarized grades dropped drastically.  When I asked her why she was upset now after making the choice she made she replied "I didn't know it would effect my grade that much." Now, I know 10th and 11th grade students have been warned of this in other classes, they know better.  Although I hate to see someone crying, this is not  a lesson she (and many others) will soon be forgetting. What lesson would they have learned if I had NOT given zeros?

If you liked this, you might like Catching a cheater

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Perks

I love my job, I really do, but like life, sometimes things get tough and ridiculous.  One of the perks of being a teacher however, is the wonderful world of student loan forgiveness.  I mean, I have an absolutely ridiculous amount of student loans (mostly thanks to deferring loan payments for two years while I was taking online french classes, what was I thinking?!) so it's nice to have a little help.

The first benefit teachers can get as soon as they start working is actually for loan cancellation....awesome!  Loan cancellation pretty much means the balance of your loan goes away, sometimes over time.  The loan cancellation I am getting is for my Perkins loan.  Every year I fill out a form, have an assistant principal sign it and use the fancy stamp, then ship it off to the Perkins people.  Boom! A couple weeks later I receive a letter showing me that a certain percentage of my loan has been cancelled and a new form to repeat the process the following year.  Yes it is annoying to have to fill the form out every year, but it is incredibly satisfying watching that balance decrease each year without having to pay a cent.  

Perhaps the most awesome part of the Perkins deal?  The accrued interest is also cancelled.  I think the Perkins people are teacher lovers, or at least appreciators. Here are the details.

The benefit that actually prompted this blog post is the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program.  After you've been teaching for five years (my five year anniversary is February 1st!) you can apply for a portion of your direct loans to be forgiven.  $5,000 for elementary or secondary teachers, a whopping $17,500 for those teaching math, science, or special ed. Once again, have someone at work validate the form, and voila. Well, hopefully voila, I have yet to apply for this one myself.

The program that seems to be the most awesome, yet requires the most time teaching is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  After making 120 consecutive monthly payments, (that's 10 years folks!) your remaining balance is forgiven.  Amazing.  There are some catches, you need to consolidate your loans with the direct loan people and be in one of three or four approved payment plans.  Follow those rules and you are golden.  The direct loan people are very helpful in assisting you in the consolidation and payment plan picking process.

Do any teachers know of any loan forgiveness/cancellation programs that I haven't listed?  I would love to hear about anything else that has worked for other people.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I'm tired of working for crazy people.

In a passively aggressive turn of events, our administration is now only allowing teachers to leave the building during our assigned lunch period.

Yup, that's right!

Want to run out for a cup of coffee?  Or perhaps a bottle of water since the water at school is BROWN?  Need something out of the car?

No dice.

You can only handle this business during your lunch period.  We have lunch and one other "prep" period, allowing for minimal out of the building time anyway.  Why enforce this crazy rule?

To top it all off, we are now required to sign in and out with the times we're out of the building.

Why to treat your staff like badly behaved children.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rainy days... y posiblemente una riada.

My first year in Spain I was in Barcelona.  I arrived on a Sunday in August, which as anyone who knows Spain knows, meant complete and total emptiness.  It was hot and everything seemed closed.  As I got to know the city day by day, the weeks went on and all of the sudden, summer was over.  How did I know? The rain.  It rained and rained and rained, my roommates told me "This is how summer begins and ends, rain."

Fast forward 7 years (holy cow!) and now I'm in Brooklyn, hours away from riding out my first hurricane (say what?!).'s true. Those nearest and dearest to me are here, with snacks and brownie mix and enough fluids to keep us hydrated until Monday at least.  (Although José at the bodega downstairs swears they'll be open tomorrow. "Estaremos aqui, te juro." Ok José).

While in Spain over the summer, I learned a new word (let's be real, I learned more than one new word) that seems especially fitting for this weekend: riada, flood in English.  I was staying in Valencia, a city that in 1957 was severely affected by a flood, there are still markers around the city showing how high the flood waters rose. The river flooded and the city decided to divert the river outside of the city center in order to avoid future devastation.  The result? An amazing garden and park area.  In Valencia I spent many an afternoon (well as many as I could reasonably fit into 2.5 weeks) enjoying the park. 

While I'm not expecting much destruction or devastation here (it's better to be safe than sorry though, bravo Mr. Bloomberg) neither am I expecting anything amazing or beautiful to emerge from these rains.  Well, perhaps this scarf that I'm working on will be fantastic. (Pictures to follow?)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"I got 99 problems..."

With the severe cuts to budgets across the country I imagine school districts everywhere are feeling these lyrics.  Not only dealing with all of the back to school stress, potentially new test taking legislation, hiring to replace teachers not returning after the summer, but doing that with hundreds of thousands slashed from your budget.

Wow.  I can't imagine.

Actually, I have a bit of insight.

Before I left for Spain I was part of my school's "Budget and Hiring Committee".  Now, I'm not really a committee joiner, but i wanted to support one of my good friends who just became our union chapter leader.  So, I spent two early days of summer, sitting through interviews and having very stressful budget conversations.  Talk about feeling like a number.  Rather, a 5 digit price, cost, expense, what have you.  While I imagine some administrators would take pause before slashing careers, mine did not.  I saw my friends (who because of last in first out were the first to go) get slashed.

 "We can get rid of 1 English and 1 History."

 No one dared use names, I bet that made it easier.

 "That will give us $140,000."

While we "get" $140,000, we are also "getting" classes maxed out at 34 students, and providing fewer elective options for students.

It's really no wonder schools across the United States (most recently South Dakota) are slashing their expenses by cutting their school week to 4 days.  Although our school mission statement states something along the lines of providing each student a full program of the core subjects all four years, many juniors and seniors in the past couple years have left after taking 3 or 4 classes.  This was of course a budgeting strategy.    I'm thinking why have kids in so few classes 5 days a week, when we can fill their programs and keep them there for 4.  Perhaps instead of offering night school for credit recovery, have kids come in on Fridays instead.  (A three day weekend would be even more incentive to pass the first time).

Either way something needs to change, our budgets are likely to keep shrinking, and there are only so many kids you can stick in a room and still have learning happen.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to Reality...

I'm baaaack!!! I am back this week after a wonderful 4.5 weeks traveling Spain.  I was selected to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar for TEACHERS. (Yes teachers, these programs are for us! Peep out Summer 2011 offerings here.)  My seminar covered Islamic Iberia which you may have guessed, meant travel to the beautiful region of Andalucia!  I met lots of great teachers, learned tons about the Islamic influence in Spain, drank many a tinto de verano, and took lots of pictures.  And I got a little tan too.

The wife of one of my colleagues at work gave me this book before I left, because part of it is set in the Alhambra, one of the sites I was going to visit.  

The Constant Princess (Boleyn)It was so good!  I've never read anything by Phillipa Gregory before, I think I'm quite a fan now.

What have you all been reading this summer?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NYC Cocktail Week!

Conveniently coinciding with the end of the year for public schools in NYC is a fabulous gift from the folks at  Cocktail Week!  Woo hoo!

From June 15th to 29th many fab bars around the city are offering specials of two drinks and an appetizer for $20.11.  Who can say no to that?

Check out the list here!