Challenges Part III: The Importance of “Writing Good”

June 9, 2009

Last week, Bill Sledzik, a professor at Kent State, wrote an insightful post on his blog, Tough Sledding, on the importance of “writing good”. As communications technology has advanced, it seems that our collective writing skills have deteriorated, especially among younger people. We dont use apostrphes nd comas we spell stuff wrong we c lotsa abbrevs nd just like say cyah l8er to writing good dude. o nd wuts a cereal coma? OK, so that’s slightly over the top, but you get the picture!

Next year, I’ll be helping students with their writing. I have no idea where they’ll be in their collective writing lives, what they’ve been taught in the past, or how important they presume writing to be. One of my challenges, therefore, will be to help them realize the importance of writing. In a time when text messages rule the teenage writing world, it will be part of my job to convey the importance of writing, and writing well, and how much of an advantage the skill can be.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to relate to their writing level and help them from there. When I was in high school, I knew solid writing could get me good grades, but that was about it. Now, after a college education, two public relations internships, and hearing countless times how important writing can be in the job market, I’ll be able to pass that knowledge on.

When you’re teaching or training someone, how do you convey the importance of something as vital as writing well?


Challenges Part II: Rule Zero: RESPECT

June 5, 2009

I wrote in my Who? section about how different it will be to hear people refer to me as “Mr. O’Keefe” next year. Calling someone by their title denotes immediate respect, but just because someone calls me “Mr.” anything doesn’t necessarily mean that I have that person’s actual respect. This can be especially true in high school. It’s formalized respect. One of my greatest challenges, therefore, will be gaining real respect from the student body.

On my first day of freshman year in high school way back in 2001, the school Principal, Mr. Gregory, spoke to us about what he expected from us. He told us of three rules. Rule Zero: Respect. Rule One: Don’t miss class. Rule Two: Read, read, and still read. Each one stuck with me in a different way, but Rule Zero, stuck with me most.

I watched, over the next 8 years, and saw how different a classroom could be when students did not actually respect the teacher. It was relative chaos compared to other classes. The most interesting part about it was that it was not necessarily determined by how nice or mean or funny or boring a teacher was, but rather how consistent and confident the teacher was.

I’ll need to prove my worth to the students. I’ll need to be fair and consistent. I’ll need to provide a level of structure and exude confidence (even if I am really nervous) so the students see that I mean business in the classroom. That being said, I don’t intend to be one of those mean, emotionless teachers without a heart (the kind of teacher I used to dislike), but gaining respect will go a long way in helping me help them with their writing (and allowing us to have a great time learning from each other, too). Finding that balance will be a huge part of my efforts in the first month or so of teaching.

When you come upon a difficult audience, how do you gain their respect?


Challenges Part I: Living Simply. Simply Living.

June 2, 2009

The next several posts will examine some of the biggest challenges that I’ll face in completing my year of service and how I hope to meet those challenges. This post will talk about simple living, one of the JVC’s Core Values.

I’ve been a pretty lucky guy. My parents have worked very hard for me over the years and for that I’m very grateful. I’ve never been spoiled (definitely not spoiled) or wasteful and my family has limits. That being said, if I need something, I can generally get it without much problem. I also worked through high school, over summers, and part-time during my senior year, allowing for me to spend socially.

Next year, I’ll have the essentials (room and board, food, most transportation, and health insurance) taken care of by JVC. I will also receive a small, monthly stipend of around $80 for personal use.

Yes, you read that correctly. $80 a month for all things social and personal for a recent college graduate in a city full of other young people, including some good friends.

I’ll need to be smart and frugal with my money. I will not be dipping into my own savings unless there is some type of emergency. It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be different, but it’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to and willing to embrace.

How will I meet this challenge? On top of frugality and savvy, I want to change my focus from money to the people around me to better embrace another of the Core Values: community.

My plan is to spend as much time at school as I possibly can. I hope to go beyond my “9-5” teaching job and get involved in after school activities, sports, and service with the students and faculty. When I’m not at the school, I’ll be with the other Jesuit Volunteers living with me and experiencing similar things (I’ll be living with 5 or 6 other Baltimore-area JV’s). I hope to immerse myself in this idea of community in order to live simply and simply live.  Through this, I hope to notice things in a new light. A light that allows for greater reflection and a deeper sense of solidarity.