Friday, August 31, 2007

Vocab Woman

Who’s this? Who in the hell is this? As a special treat for back-to-school week at NTB, let me introduce you to Vocab Woman. As most high schools seem to, the high school where I taught had a spirit week during which students and teachers who had spirit (and I’ve always had spirit, how ‘bout you?) dressed up as each day’s theme demanded. This is me as Vocab Woman on superhero day.

The picture is blurry, I know, but you can probably make out the VW crest on my shirt. My wand is made from a yellow kitchen sponge. My socks have red hearts on them, since I “heart” vocabulary. My acrylic nails are painted a nice maroon red (this is not related to my Vocab Woman identity, but worth noting as having my nails filled every two weeks was something I did religiously while I was a high school teacher, one of the many reasons I did not save even a quarter during those years). My tights are emblazoned with various ninth grade vocabulary words: debris, unbridled, apex, alien, pliant, plethora, erratic, pauper, relinquish, hoodwink (my all-time favorite), and many more. My headband reads “Present Power.”

Present Power? As I always liked to say, inspired by Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation, “A good vocabulary is the gift that keeps on giving.” At the beginning of each school year at McHS*, I would take the vocabulary workbooks for each class period of students and wrap them up as presents (one large present per class period, I am not so big of a loser that I individually wrapped 87 or so vocabulary workbooks). During the first week of school, I would choose one student to unwrap the present while saying a few words about how improving one’s vocabulary also positively influences one’s writing, reading comprehension, preparedness for college admissions tests, and overall sense of and/or appearance of intelligence. My students were ninth graders who, while not particularly excited by the contents of the unwrapped box, tended to be amused and charitable enough to make it worth doing. Whenever it was time for vocabulary throughout the year, I would say with enthusiasm, “Open your presents.” They thought I was being a dork, and I knew for sure that I was so there was a nice synergy there. They would open their presents and, NTB, end up enjoying vocabulary time. It was only a small piece of our curriculum, but I think I did the best I could with it. Students would proudly share stories with the class of hearing or reading a ninth grade vocab. word in the real world. Sometimes they brought in proof, and we had a bulletin board devoted to textual evidence that these were words they might encounter outside of their workbooks or room 126.

My last year of teaching at McHS, I recall being really peeved when I heard that an eighth grade Language Arts teacher at McMS had decided to use my idea and wrap his vocabulary books too. I never got a chance to confront him on that, but I still get mad whenever I think of it. What, was he going to dress as Vocab Man for Halloween too?

Anyway, I came across the picture and it reminded me of the years when I did a job that, though it could be awfully frustrating and time intensive, had its own unique rewards and satisfactions. I liked finding ways to engage my students, to be creative, and to share my enthusiasm for literature . . . and vocabulary. I hope that when my former students, most of whom should be out of college by now, hear a ninth grade vocabulary word, they think of me, Vocab Woman, and/or their presents. I hear ninth grade vocabulary words all the time. When I do, I smile and look around excitedly, then realize there is no one around to share my joy. From time to time though, my husband will say something like, “Spurious. That’s a ninth grade vocab. word, right?” It is, indeed.

Including pictures in posts is a skill learned in honor of back-to-school week (and as these pictures are not in the proper order, clearly I am still learning). I have included another one, taken during spirit week the same year as the Vocab Woman photo. As the photograph makes evident, it was 80’s day. Here are some of the English teachers mocking the very decade in which they spent their formative years. If you look on the floor to the left, you can see that one of my friends even had a boom box blasting. NTB.

*McMansion High School


LAP said...

I'm always amazed at how much you are willing to share. Your first photo posting and you choose Vocab Woman. Bold and admirable.

By the way, I would be so pissed at that 8th grade teacher.

REGAN said...

"Syzygy" is one of the longer words without a, e, i, o or u and the only one with more than two ys (cf. "rhythm"). It is not taught in 9th grade, but it's hard to be completely topical when your team gets beat by 30 at home. Obviously, it is an outstanding scrabble word and worth knowing for that reason alone. I had a good fifth grade teacher, who emphasized "idiosyncratic," which I remember thinking, at the time, amounted to really pushing it for your average fifth grader. I had already known it, NTB.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the visual interpretation of the Vocab Woman I only heard about all these years. Clearly worth the wait, NTB. M

Anonymous said...

I got a little choked up remembering jamming to "Living on a Prayer" right there in the Love Hallway. Can you believe that I found that entire outfit right in my closet?? I continue to be one of Vocab Woman's most ardent fans.
Oh, how I'd love to share a Cheese Weaver lunch with you this week.

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