Sunday, October 28, 2007

What They Will Become

On Saturday, I attended a conference for AP teachers at Occidental, organized by the College Board. College Board holds these conferences periodically to guide AP teachers towards helping high school students meet the high expectations of the university level. As a teacher, I find it a thrillingly challenging task to get juniors in high school to think and write at a level not usually achieved until college.

Right now, a quarter of the way through the school year, my students are scared. They enter my class and think that they can write, then get papers back from me that score so low on the AP rubric that they begin to wonder if they are the writers they thought they were after all. Some of them are so used to doing well, that they do not know how to respond when they don't get automatic As. These students have been passed along because they do their work and do not need the basic instruction of many of their peers, but they are unaware that they can grow too.

And grow they do. By the end of the year, my students have style. They can build arguments on strong logical foundations and appeal successfully to their audience's expectations and beliefs. Even better, by June, the kids can look at their work from the course of the year and chart their own progress. By June, these students know they can write.

The conference on Saturday gave me more tools to use with my students to help them exceed the goals that they are just learning to set. It helped me learn to set higher goals too, and guided me towards achieving them. With more workshops like these, more experience, and more reflective thought, I hope to become a teacher that can look back and chart her progress as she grew to be powerful AP teacher, as she grew to become a teacher who
knew she could teach.

Roasted Parsnips and Carrots with Rosemary

In the garden, the carrots have just sprung their lacy first "true-leaves" and the parsnips are finally beginning to emerge. (I tried a Pat Welsh experiment with them when I first planted both the carrots and the parsnips, but I think they would have done just as well had I planted them directly into loose soil and kept them consistently moist.) Like teeth, white and sharp, the garlic has pushed first leaves through the soil. In the markets, the first fall parsnips, plump and ivory, are beginning to arrive from farms in higher elevations, and local carrots are available year-round. This tasty side dish is a regular on my table, one that I look forward to making with carrots, garlic, and parsnips from my own garden. They'll get there.

Roasting the carrots and parsnips with rosemary highlights their natural sweetness and the citrus notes of the parsnip. Adding a necessary depth to the dish, garlic cloves melt into spreadable goodness. Before I roast the vegetable mixture, I add a teaspoon of caramelized honey to accentuate the browned flavors. (Caramelized honey is less sweet than regular honey, and if you are able to find it at your local green market or natural foods store, I recommend giving it a try. Its bittersweet floral flavor works well in both savory and sweet dishes.) However, if you cannot find caramelized honey, regular honey would be just as nice in the dish, or you could omit the honey altogether, as the vegetables are already nicely sweet.

Serves 2-3 as a sizable side dish.

You will need:
2-3 large parsnips, washed well and peeled
4-5 carrots, washed well and peeled
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, washed and roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, but left whole
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
salt to taste

To roast the veggies:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chop the carrots across the widths into 1" chunks. If your parsnips are as large as mine were, you'll need to quarter them, then cut those quarters into 1" long chunks. Try to get the veggie pieces approximately the same size.

Toss all the veggies, garlic, and herbs into a 9x12 roasting pan. Drizzle the olive oil and honey over all and salt liberally then use your hands to mix the ingredients in the roasting pan, so that each vegetable chunk gets a slick of oil, salt, honey, and rosemary. Spread the veggies around into as close to a single layer as you can get them.

Place the pan in the oven. At 25 minutes, check to see if the veggies are roasted to tenderness. If not, give them 5-10 more minutes, checking occasionally, until they are browned slightly and tender inside.


winedeb said...

I just picked up my first package of parsnips at the grocery this week! I am looking forward to a nice platter of roasted veggies. I will try the rosemary, as I have quite a bit of it in my pots and that sounds like a great addition! I also like to put a light sprinkle of balsamic vinegar on mine right before I take them out of the oven. Yum!

Wendy said...

I'm hugely impressed. What you are doing is what I try to do. But I am very aware I have a lot of work to do before I am as good a teacher as you obviously are. Found this post very inspiring. Thank you.

Your students sound very motivated. Is this down to you also? Or are they generally motivated to learn? I'd love to experience that more. The area I teach is in the 10% most deprived areas of the UK. As you can imagine, a lot of our pupils come from a culture where education is not deemed to be important. Not to mention the emoional baggage they carry.
Goodness, there's so much to think about!

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, the ones who have always gotten As ... one of the saddest moments of heartbreak I've ever seen is that moment that inevitably comes every semester I teach college freshman English when a student sits in my office astounded and says, "I can't believe this. I always got As on my papers in high school." I enjoy these moments, not because I'm cruel but because I know that this is the type of student who figures out fast (a) that she can do so much more as a writer, and (b) how far she will go based on her demonstrated ability to take responsibility for herself. By the end of the semester, this is the student who "gets it"--that in high school, some teachers reward you for effort, but in college (as a natural transition into the working world), effort means little, and the quality of what you actually produce--no matter how much or how little effort it took--is the criteria by which you will be evaluated. It's why some of us go into teaching and writing, and others go into fields in which I could invest all of my time and intelligence and still never achieve a whole lot. To take your metaphor and run with it, it's where we stop being seeds and turn into plants as different as mums and cabbages, with very different needs and very different--and important--roles to play.

That said, we ALL need to know how to write. Of course!


Lucy said...

What a great time for you and for them. You never stop learning, growing. That's what this little life is about. I hope you achieve your goal - I've been lucky enough to have had some inspirational teachers in my time. I know what a difference you will make.

Anonymous said...

I wish I'd had an English/writing teacher like you in high school! In fact, I could still use a writing teacher like you... I'm struggling with an essay for work, and I never really thought about it might be because I'm going about the structure all wrong. Maybe I should sit down with Strunk/White for a little bit!

I'm so happy root vege season is back. I love summer and all, but early autumn might just be my favorite food-time of the year.

Susan in Italy said...

Mmm... yummy roasty vegetables. I also teach writing and wish I could take a seminar like yours. There's always more to learn.

Christina said...

Winedeb: Balsamic vinegar sounds like a great addition! I hope you enjoyed your first parsnips of the season.

Wendy: You're welcome! I was incredibly inspired after Saturday's workshop. The presenter is the teacher I want to be after ANOTHER 11 years teaching. As for my students, I work in a school that services working class to lower middle class kids, about 70% of whom are Latino and the rest a mix of everything else. My AP Writing (Advanced Placement English Language and Composition) classes are made up of students who chose to take on a higher-level class, so they are the naturally motivated type. Most of their parents have not gone to college, but that doesn't stop the parents of these kids to be education-oriented. However, I've taught just about every class my department offers in my eleven years at the school, and have dealt with a huge variety of motivational, emotional, and cognitive issues, and I understand the difficulty with motivating those who don't know how to want to learn. I don't think there is a "magic bullet" answer to such a situation; when I have been successful with such kids (which isn't always), it has been because I worked very hard to teach them how to be students. Books by Jim Burke have been an excellent resource in the quest towards engaging every student in the process of learning.

Learning to teach never ends. I have so much more to learn and so much more I want to accomplish in my classroom. I'm so glad to hear that you feel the same way.

Kristan: Which is the teacher, the cabbage or the mum? Thanks for the insightful comment, my friend. I hope you're well--I haven't seen you in AGES!

Lucy: Thank you! I've had inspirational teachers too--that's why I know they're important. I wouldn't be a teacher had I not been in their classes.

Ann: The Elements of Style never gets old. Remind me some time, after we actually meet in person, which I am sure will happen some day, to tell you my Strunk/White story. It's a good one. Good luck getting through that essay. What prewriting/invention strategy have you used? As for the fall root vegetables, oh holy jebeezus, am I happy they're here!

Susan in Italy: Tell me about it! It never ends, does it? I'd love to hear more about your teaching.

Have a happy Halloween, everybody!

The Passionate Palate said...

I like the correlation between the budding students and the budding parsnips. Yummy recipe!