Category Archives: Personal

Contranyms: a word with two opposing meanings

Previously, I published a (still growing) list of bound root morphemes. In the same spirit, I’d like to make the world aware of contranyms. A contranym is a word with two opposite meanings. For example:

weather (to decay): the wood had been weathered to the point that it would no longer hold any weight.

weather (to endure): we, too, shall weather this storm and look forward to better days ahead.

buckle (to fasten): with his belt securely buckled, John’s pants weren’t about to go anywhere fast.

buckle (to collapse): the iron beam began to buckle after the engineers shifted the weight of the truss to the north side of the platform.

oversight (to monitor): the committee’s responsibilities included oversight of the annual budget.

oversight (to fail to notice): due to an oversight, the project took months longer than expected.

dust (to remove dust): the maid dusted the windowsill, which had become quite dirty.

dust (to add dust): the chef dusted the cake with cocoa powder.

left (to remain): the only people left at this party are my very good friends

left (to leave): the only people who left this party were my very good friends

sanction (to punish): the government imposed trade sanctions on the international market

sanction (to promote): this activity is sanctioned by our national organization


Can you determine the oppositions of the following contranyms: 

  • bound
  • custom
  • clip
  • cut
  • citation
  • fast

There are hundreds of contranyms in our language. Some are interesting, some are not. Some require a shift in their speech part (“skin” is a noun that means a covering, while “skin” is a verb that means uncovering), while others require a little bit of modification (to resign is to quit, but to re-sign is to sign up again).

If you can think of others (without relying on internet searches), send them my way!



The English III Anthology Project

Here is the completed packet for those of you who have asked: English III Anthology Project. The best way to get this to you without email is to just post it here! This is the inquiry project my students will be working on this spring.

Classroom Rules

As I get ready for the new school year, these are the rules I wish I could have for my classroom! I wrote them a few years ago and have always been tempted to hand them out on the first day of school.

The 21 Rules of Mr. Anderson’s Classroom

1. All incoming paper that you want me to read, grade, or review goes into the wire basket on my desk.  There is no better place than the wire basket for you to submit your work, including my hands. My hands are much different than the wire basket on my desk. 

2. My desk is not a rummage sale. One day, you will have office supplies of your very own, and then you will understand.  Until then, please refrain from manhandling the items on my desk.

3. Leave the plants on my desk alone. There are days unknown to you when the well-being of my plants outranks the well-being of my students. Don’t make me pick; you might not win.

4. There may be times when I ask your entire class to spend a moment or two straightening desks or picking up some trash off the floor.  Often, it’s not even your trash.  The Supreme Court has determined that this is neither cruel nor unusual. 

5. There are no fewer than one million tasks that I must absolutely accomplish during any given passing period.  I love you, but this is a poor time to ask me to explain quantum physics. 

6. I absolutely do not allow students to have food or drink in my classroom, yet I drink several cups of coffee a day while teaching.  Scientists are still working to unravel this mysterious paradox. 

7. If I see you with food or drink, I’m going to take it away from you, and you will not get it back.  This policy will seem reasonable until it is applied to you.  Then it will seem like a felony. 

8. Can you still turn this in? Sweetie, there is no such thing as a grade lower than zero, so you don’t have much to lose. Hand it in and let’s see what happens.

9. In a ceremony that has lasted thousands of years, I have been bestowed with magical powers that tell me when you want to go to the bathroom just because you are bored.

10. Will handing this in raise your grade? Honey, adding one number to another number will give you a bigger number.  This is the basis for all mathematics.  Doing your homework might be surprising, but it doesn’t change modern math.

11. I cannot believe you wore that to school today.

12.  Dude, I didn’t lose your homework assignment. You didn’t turn it in. I’ve been teaching for almost as long as you’ve been alive, and I know how to use paperclips.

13. You took your sweet time to turn it in; I’m going to take my sweet time to grade it.

14. If you can have favorite teachers, I can have favorite students.  We tend to be nice to people who are nice to us.  That doesn’t change much, no matter how old you get. 

15. Stop asking me if I got your email. I’m just going to turn around and ask you if you got my reply to your email, and we both know the answer to that question.

16.  If Joan of Arc can liberate France before she turned eighteen, you could start putting your name on your assignments. I have that much faith in you.

17. Yes, dear, we did do something in class yesterday. We saw that you were absent and somehow gathered the courage to move on without you. Here’s your homework assignment. It’s due tomorrow.

18. What do you mean “what’s on the test?” I’ve just spent the last three weeks telling you what’s on the test.

19. I cannot believe you forwarded that email to me.

20. Sometimes I’m tempted to take you down to the junior high so that you can meet the other kids in your graduating class.

21. There are days when I love you more than you love yourself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to accept anything less than your very best.

Power to the People

We don’t talk about the “N” word enough. Yes, THAT “N” word. You know, THE “N” word. It’s the Voldemort of words: never to be uttered except in the most necessary of circumstances. My students struggle with the “N” word, too. Some believe that using it unabashedly takes the wind out of its sails. Others believe that it’s too controversial. I tend to agree with the latter, but only because I never really need to say the word. In that respect, I’m like the non-smoker who votes for a ban on smoking. If I don’t need to use it, nobody else does either.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get used. It’s especially common in high schools where rap music is as common as the word itself.

I don’t claim to be an expert on race.  When it comes to race, I have only my own experiences. As do each of my students – black and white alike. Nobody is an authority on race (excepting those who make it a core passion or academic study), but our experiences as people are vastly different – which is why we need to talk about it. Openly. Together. In the same room. And we do talk openly about race in my classroom for two reasons. First, race is a central issue in American Literature. Second, race is a central issue in my students’ lives. It’s a good conversation to have because it’s a conversation few of them have ever had in a constructive and safe environment. Some students readily admit that they aren’t comfortable talking about race. Seems to me like that’s exactly why we should have a conversation in the first place. Other issues, like sex and drugs, can make students uncomfortable – those are times when I need to defer to the emotional needs of the student. But while these kids can avoid sex and drugs, they can’t avoid diversity – so we talk about it openly.

When we first talk about race in my classroom, my white students instantly turn to the black students – as though my black students are prepared (and eager) to speak on behalf of the entire black community. We soon discover that my white students have a lot more to say about race than my black students. This is a natural consequence of being in the majority – my white kids rarely think about race as it applies to them- only as it applies to others – so they have more unprocessed ideas and feelings. My black students still struggle with some aspects of race, but have generally spent more time confronting the issue, either passively or directly. So our first hurdle is getting everyone to understand that race is a two-way issue – it is not like cancer or the flu; it is not some disease owned entirely by those who suffer from it.

Without fail, my white students first ask why we have a black history month but not a white history month. I tend to answer with the obvious. We already have a white history month. We have eleven white history months. More to the point, how is black history different from my history. Is the ubiquitous George Washington Carver not also a part of my history any more than George Washington is part of African-American history? It seems to me like a wiser use of our time should be to take whatever time and effort we invest in Black History Month and use that energy to make sure that our history classes include a fair and balanced portrayal of our nation’s history – honorable and dishonorable.

My white students really struggle with who gets to use the “N” word. It seems to be socially understood that my white students aren’t really allowed to use the word, while my black students have the option available to them if they wish. Nowhere is this more awkward than a group of white and black students singing along to a song that uses the word. Do I say it or not? Both races have to make a decision, but you get the sense that it’s tough for everyone; tough for the white kids who have to make a decision, and tough for the black kids who have to watch their white friends flinch in the face of diversity.

And it’s here that we have the most important conversation of the year.

We talk about power constructs. It’s the first time my students have linked power to being.  To them, power is the domain of adults – and all adults are essentially nothing more than adults – not black or white or male or female.  Adults have power and kids do not.  To them, there is no delineation between which adults have power. It’s the first time they’ve thought about how power is shared, moved, stolen, and shifted up and down social ladders.

We begin by thinking of society as a ladder – some are higher up the ladder than others. Each of us occupies a rung on the ladder. There are people above us, and there are people below us. It’s not how it should be in a democracy, but it is how it is. But there isn’t just one ladder – there are thousands of ladders based on religion, gender, masculinity, femininity, body weight, beauty, income, fashion sense, neighborhood, intelligence, and hundreds more. Collectively, these combine to form a big social ladder. Rich, white, heterosexual, Christian, good looking, physically healthy, mentally stable men occupy the top rung of the ladder, and their opposites sit at the bottom.

Once you understand the social ladder concept, you can understand why there is a double-standard regarding who can use the “N” word.

It is an acceptable practice for those who occupy a lower rung to shake their fist upward, and unacceptable for those higher on the ladder to push downward.  Women can trash men all day long, but men aren’t allowed to say much in response. Poor people can say “tax the rich!”, but rich people aren’t nearly as welcome to scream “tax the poor!” without looking like heartless bastards. Good looking people aren’t supposed to laugh at ugly people for wearing a $5 fanny-pack, but nobody seems to care much when an ugly person laughs at a good looking person for sporting a $400 purse. Fat people can growl at skinny people, but skinny people aren’t really supposed to growl back – unless the fat person is trying to steal food from their plate. I can make jokes about fat people stealing food; most of you cannot.

The difference is social power. You simply aren’t allowed to steal power from those lower than you on the ladder without looking like a racist, sexist, elitist, chump with no respect for others. If you are to improve your own standing, it is by reaching up and pulling others down as a way of pulling yourself up. You cannot step on the heads of others to make yourself feel better – hence the elementary adage “don’t put others down”. But you can reach up and try to pull others down, socially speaking. There is some debate about the number of black voters in California who voted to ban gay marriage (a debate largely created by a single news organization that seems to benefit from minority classes appearing to be odds with each other). Regardless of whether the presumption that African-Americans are more or less accepting of other minorities is myth or reality, it speaks to the fact that unless you are the bottom rung, there still may be power struggles at all points on the ladder, not just at the top.

Similarly, those who occupy the same rung on the ladder are able to use derogatory language to describe themselves and others who share the same rung. Words like “dyke”, “queer”, and “fag” are exclusively the property of those who identify with the words. For anyone else to use them is an insult.

And so it is that my black students seem to have the ability to choose whether or not to use the “N” word, while my white students don’t seem to have that option.

It is a false argument among those who possess the power to suggest that pulling people down the ladder is just as bad as pushing people down the ladder; that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Not so. What is fair isn’t always equal, and while the golden rule is a great rule, it doesn’t apply to social construct theory.  It might be true that “reverse racism” exists, but it hardly puts a dent in the power structure of the white establishment, so it doesn’t really do much harm; whereas it’s opposite has been the primary tool of oppression and the damage is real and measurable to the African-American community. It’s also interesting to note that while people like Rush Limbaugh claim that those lower than him on the ladder should never gain power at his expense (i.e. affirmative action), he owes the entirety of his success to snapping at the heels of those higher than him on the political ladder.

What is fair isn’t always equal. And that’s not a bad lesson to learn in any classroom.

Two Books

One of the things that I’ve learned about getting awards is that they tend to lead to other awards and other forms of recognition. This can be a hard pill to swallow. If you don’t think you deserve the first award, then those that follow are equally awkward. Nevertheless, I’m going to do my part to shamelessly promote two books that feature yours truly:

 BOOK #1

The first book is Conversations with America’s Best Teachers: Teacher of the Year Award Winners Give Practical Advice For the Classroom and Beyond by J. William Towne. With a foreward by Kathleen McCartney, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Conversations with America’s Best Teachers provides in-depth interviews with 18 National Teacher of the Year Award winners and finalists as they offer practical advice to all K-12 teachers and parents. Inside you will also learn about the 10 commonalities that nearly all great teachers have as well as finding out what books have helped to shape and influence these teachers (text is from the website).

I think the coolest thing about this book are the reviewers:

Conversations with America’s Best Teachers provides valuable advice and creative methods for dealing with many of the problems teachers face in classrooms all over the country. Every teacher should read this book.”

– Richard Riley
Former U.S. Secretary of Education


“This is a book you need to read if you want to be – not just a better teacher – but one of the best teachers!”
– Harry Wong
Author, The First Days of School


“Towne may not have had America’s best teachers in school, but his book provides a national service in helping create more of them. Everyone with an interest in education- and that should include everyone- should read this book and will be glad they did.”

– Milton Chen
Executive Director, George Lucas Educational Foundation


“You can open Towne’s book on any page and find wisdom.”

– Jay Matthews
Washington Post


“Right out of the mouths of a remarkable collection of teachers. A pleasure to read!”

– Deborah Meier
NYU Steinhardt School of Education


“This book renews our faith in the world’s most important profession.”

– Dr. Spencer Kagan
Author, Kagan Cooperative Learning


Conversations with America’s Best Teachers makes a tremendously powerful case for teachers as empowered leaders.”

– Virginia B. Edwards
Editor, Education Week / Teacher Magazine


“The valuable insights of successful teachers in Conversations with America’s Best Teachers will not only benefit other teachers looking for solutions, but anyone who wants to know the real joys and challenges of the most important work in this country.”


– Michelle Rhee
Chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools


“Worthwhile reading for educators, policymakers, and anyone interested in transforming today’s public education system.”

– Dennis Van Roekel
President, National Education Association


“Towne has done a great public service to all those who care about educating our children by highlighting great teachers and the work they do.”

– Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO


“I hope this book becomes a primer for teachers in training.”

– Kathleen A. Carpenter
Editor, TeachersNet Gazette


“These pages will inspire awe, appreciation, and sometimes shock at what is required to excel in the world’s most important profession. I hope that every teacher — and every school administrator — reads this book!”

– Eric Adler
Co-Founder & Managing Director, The SEED Foundation


“Inspirational! A must read for every teacher and parent. Both new and experienced teachers can benefit from the wisdom of these accomplished educators.”

– Joe Aguerrebere
President, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards


Conversations with America’s Best Teachers is a much needed addition to the education reform literature.”

– Robert Hughes
President, New Visions for Public Schools


“A must read for all teachers, new and experienced!”

– Patirck F. Bassett
President, National Association of Independent Schools


“Fun and interesting. You’ll learn something from each of these teachers whether you’re a peer or a wonk. Towne has done a remarkable service here.”

– Andrew J. Rotherham
Co-Founder and Publisher, Education Sector and

If you want the Amazon link for Conversations with America’s Best Teachers, click here.

 BOOK #2

The second book is A+ Educators: A World-Class Tribute to Our Best Teachers by Randy Howe. The synopsis from Amazon reads as follows:

A+ Educators profiles seventy-five amazing classroom teachers who have received recognition on the state and national level. Inspiring profiles of more than sixty amazing teachers. What makes a great teacher? While there is no particular formula, one thing is certain: Great teachers are worthy of the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues, and they should be publicly recognized for the love of learning they inspire. A+ Educators profiles more than sixty amazing K–12 classroom teachers who have received the highest honors—including both National Teachers of the Year and winners of annual teaching awards in their respective states. The teachers come from all fifty states and from all grade levels and subjects. They are the trendsetters of the new century, using innovation, technology, and good old-
fashioned common sense to deliver the best possible education to their students.
Ok, so enough about me.

Monopoly as a Social Experiment

This is one of those Reader Responses posts – I’d like to get your ideas on a project – but first, an explanation:

Today or tomorrow, I’ll begin teaching “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorainne Hansberry. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s the story of a 1950’s African American family in the slums of Chicago who receives insurance money from the death of their father/grandfather. The money isn’t enough to catapult them permanently out of the ghetto, but it’s enough seed money to move them in that direction if they are smart about their decision. Naturally, there is great disagreement about how the money should be spent.

And so I’ve contrived an idea that I think would help my students understand what’s at stake. Many of the students I teach have the perception that families can work themselves out of poverty simply by getting a job, saving their money, and slowly climbing out of the hole they are in. They perceive the American Dream to be something that is equally attainable for every member of society. In short, they confuse social freedom and legal freedom.

Many of you may agree or disagree with the premise that not every American family can work their way out of poverty – even with hard work, determination, and a positive attitude. The statistics say otherwise; though many may simply attribute this to laziness or a lack of effort on “their” part.

It occurs to me that I might be able to play the board game Monopoly with my students. Four teams, and each team is a family of six people who get to collectively decide what to do on each turn – just as the Younger family got to choose what to do with the insurance money.

The rules of the game will be the same for everyone – just as the laws in our society are the same for everyone.

But I’m adding three twists:

1. Family #1 gets $5000 dollars to start. Family #2 gets $2000 to start. Family #3 gets $2000 to start. Family #4 gets $500 to start.

2. We will play the game under two presidents. In the first half of the game, the houses and hotels are half-priced (because corporate tax breaks and write-offs mean more home construction). In the second half of the game, the houses and hotels cost more (a $100 house is now $150) but the extra money is handed directly to Family #4.

3. It is possible to start building houses and hotels on any owned property, no monopoly is necessary (this is for the element of time and reality).

So here’s where you come in . . .

What rules and adjustments would you make to the game to make it more realistic?

I will share everything (appropriate) you write with my kids to let them know how others view our economic social structure!

My Students Rock

I’m so excited about a project that my students have spent the entire semester working on, so I wanted to take  a moment to brag on my kids.

The idea comes from a project that I saw at Lawrence High School last December. While the purpose and design of our respective projects are fundamentally different, the structure of that project and this one are very similar. The LHS teacher’s name is Sue Donnelly, and she gets credit as the inspiration for the project.

The Anthology Portfolio Project

The project started on the first day back from winter break in January. We started by listing all of the great questions of the universe such as “what is my purpose in life?” and “how can we make others truly happy?” and “is fate predetermined?”. Every student was required to design one perfectly worded question that intrigued them the most. They were also required to construct four or five corollary questions that surrounded their thematic question. So, for example, the student who wanted to know “why do some people reject God?” might also ask “what does it mean to be a skeptic?” and “how can I be sure that my beliefs are correct?”.  The students worked closely with their parents to create their question, and the parents had to sign off on the thematic and corollary questions.

From the onset, our goal was never to answer the question, but rather to discover an answer that we can be at peace with for now.

Once students had selected their question, we started our journey by selecting novels, short stories, poems, non-fiction, and other literary pieces (the librarians were a tremendous help in this process).  Each piece was hand-picked by the student for its theme, reading level, and style.  Each piece also offered an author’s perspective on the student’s thematic question. The student who chose rebellion read the novel Catcher in the Rye. The student who asked about inner beauty read the non-fiction book Reviving Ophelia. Yet another student who wanted to define love read Edward Taylor’s poems “Preparatory Meditations”.

Each piece of literature became an abstract conversation between the student and the author. The student asks, the author answers with a plot twist or character development. The student reflects and asks again. The author offers symbols and metaphors. The student asks once more, and the author offers a climax and a resolution. Each piece is a textbook; an emotional map of some intellectual landscape.  

At the conclusion of each literary piece, each student wrote a formal academic essay that included MLA citations, research, and a literary analysis. They also wrote a thematic discovery essay at the start of the unit, a final response essay at the end of the unit, and a synthesis interview essay (in which they interviewed several adults and examined themes, trends, and departures in their respondents’ answers). The even wrote several creative pieces of their own such as slam poetry and poetic responses. We also read and wrote a literary analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  By the end of the project, students had each written eight process papers (a process paper includes all stages of the writing process such as outline, rough draft, etc). They had also read quite a bit as well.

If you think that’s a lot of writing, imagine all the grading! Seventy-five kids. Eight papers. Each one graded twice – the final draft, and then mandatory revisions. Every paper had to be perfect. Each one about three pages. That’s about 1,200 papers, with each one getting about 5-6 sentences of feedback. It’s also about 3,600 pages of careful editing for commas, spelling, organization, and MLA citations.

And it was all worth it, because in about two weeks, the kids are going to present their Anthologies to one adult in their life with whom they’d like to share this journey.

As I write this, I’m certain than more than half of my kids are working furiously to put finishing touches on their papers – or on the portfolio itself. A three ring binder decorated and designed like no other project the student has ever completed; a flawless treasure of hot glue, construction paper, decals, sheet protectors, stenciling, and hand-crafted lettering. Inside is a perfect copy of each page of each paper. Also included is every page of every rough draft; every page that I’ve edited and marked on.

The students know that they will someday unpack this project as they return from college, or move into their first home; or after a death or a birth or a marriage – some event that always requires us to get our hands dusty with memories. It will stay in their parent’s basement, packed away in some random box until fate is ready to return it to them. They are creating an emotional time capsule, and they want their future selves to be so very proud of who they are today.

In twelve years of teaching, I’ve never seen my students so excited about creating something with such intensity and precision. To hear them talk, they are each creating the Sistine Chapel, only not nearly so sloppily as the hand of Michelangelo himself did create.

And this is why I’m so incredibly proud of my students. At the start of the project, they all recoiled in horror at the thought of so much reading and writing. Now, they are more excited about this project than any other one they can remember.

On the evenings of Monday, May 18th and Tuesday, May 19th (we must split ourselves into two equal evenings), we will gather to present our Anthology Projects. Every student has written a formal letter of invitation to their guest. Most guests are parents, many others are youth leaders, adult mentors, teachers, and even a couple of Boy Scout pack leaders. Each student will bring some food or drink to share with everyone, and two of our students have agreed to provide some entertainment: one will play the piano at the start of the evening, one will read an incredible poem that she has written.

Then, for about 40 minutes, every student will share his or her Anthology Portfolio with his or her guest. Together, they will recreate the journey and ask questions of each other, and use the literature and the student’s writing as a springboard for bigger, more important conversations. They will talk as equals, not as adult and child or mother and son.

While I know it won’t be a perfect evening, and there will be mess-ups and last minute problem-solving, I also know that this could be the most wonderful night of my teaching career!