Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tell Me About Yourself

As a teacher, I feel that it is important to do all that I can to really know my students. I can get their vital statistics from school records, but that is not the information that helps me to build a relationship that fosters maximum teaching and learning. English teachers have it easy. They can assign all of those "What I did On My Summer Vacation" essays that allow them to learn about their students (I do realize that often English teachers learn more than the really want to know!). If you don't teach English, and therefore don't assign weekly essays, it is hard to get to know the real student. I have attempted to circumvent this problem by having one question on each of my semester tests that gives the students an opportunity to tell me something about themselves.

Our first test of the semester was last week. "The 'Last Question", as they are affectionately called, was this:

You have been sent to the proverbial desert island. You are permitted to take one kind of food, one book, and one CD. What would you take, and why.

Here are my students' answers.
  • apples - they are healthy and hopefully, because they have seeds, I could grow a continuous food supply
  • soybeans - they are healthy and I could mix them with plants and fruits on the island for some variety
  • chicken - I could eat chicken forever and never get tired of it
  • french fries - They are my favorite and if that was all I had to eat, I probably would not have to worry too much about getting fat.
  • brown rice (no reason given and no full credit given for the question on the test)
  • sandwich - I am not sure that this constitutes a single food item unless it is an air sandwich. Obviously this is a student who wants to push the limits!
  • Fruit was also an answer. This falls into the same category as sandwich - only one type of fruit would be allowed.


  • The Bible had three votes (in a class of 10). The reasons for taking The Bible were as you might expect: It is full of inspiration and wisdom. It is a big book so I would have much to read. It is fresh even if you read it over and over.
  • Something of Dante's. The exact title would be determined at the point of departure for the island. This student said he had not read anything by Dante and thought that he should.
  • Fake Book - This is a music class so a Fake Book is a smart move.
  • The Odyssey - This would keep anyone busy for a long time.

And my favorite book answer

  • Some really big book - I have no intention of reading it because I really don't like to read, but if I get cold, I can burn it. The bigger and fatter the book, the better!

And finally, the CD choices. One would think that since this is a class of musicians, this would be the most interesting of the three choices. You be the judge.


  • A CD by A Perfect Circle
  • "La Scala "by Keith Jarret
  • Jimi Hendricks "Are You Experienced?"
  • "Kiss My Axe" (No artist was given. I guess I was supposed to know this CD. I don't.)
  • Spiritual music (That is specific. Some people find Mozart spiritual. Others find spirituality in The Beatles. This is another case where full credit was not given for the answer.)
  • Gospel music. Again I say, "Like who?"

The most interesting answer to this part of the question was:

  • No CD - I prefer to listen to the sounds of nature. (I suppose I can get behind that as long as it is not barking dogs. I have had enough of that today. I am possibly preferring heavy metal to my personal sounds of nature right now.)

Knowing that I have these answers to read at the end of each test gives me something to look forward to after grading all of the analysis. Despite some of the incomplete answers to "The Last Question", I do feel like I know this semester's class a little better. And, I will learn a little more after Test #2.

Reading the students answers does help me to know them a little better, but I hope too that doing so offers the students some personal insight as well. I know it did for me.

My responses are:

Food: peanut butter - Just like the student who answered that soybeans could be mixed with many things to create variety, so too with peanut butter. Most things are made better by slathering on a little peanut butter. And, if things get really bad on the consumable front, a heavy slathering of peanut butter can hide a multitude of sins.

Book: The Anthology of Spiritual Poetry - This volume includes poetry from many cultures and periods of history. Like the Bible, a poem can be read fresh each time. Because of the variety of pieces in this book, I think there would be something that I would find both inspirational or entertaining in all circumstances that may arise on the island.

CD: John Michael Talbot's Meditations On The Spirit. Choosing a CD is the hardest part of the question for me. I feel like my answer should have been some monumental art piece. The truth is, when I listen to "art music", the theorist in me kicks in and I find myself analyzing the piece until I am not really hearing it any more. If I can only listen to one CD for the rest of my days, I don't want to spend my time dissecting it. This particular John Michael Talbot CD has always spoken to me. I particularly the song, "Veni Sanctus Spiritus".

How would you answer this question? Comments welcome if you would like to share.