William Shakespeare and Career Readiness

William Shakespeare and Career Readiness

            My sophomore class and I had just started reading Act III Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” when Tony in agonized frustration with both Shakespeare’s language and the behavior of the characters called out, “Hey, Mr. Manos, how is reading this going to put money in my pocket?”

I paused, uncertain how to answer.

The seconds that passed felt like minutes as Tony’s classmates murmured to each other, a few even giggling, as they peered at their textbook or studied me. Would my answer satisfy Tony? Did I even have an answer?

Tony’s question was legitimate. Indeed, how can the soothsayer’s warning “Beware the ides of March” or Caesar’s arrogant response literally contribute to a paycheck for Tony? I paused because I wanted to formulate an eloquent response about the benefits of reading Shakespeare’s entertaining although violent play, but Tony simply wanted to discover the concrete connection between Shakespeare’s tragedy written in 1599 and his career plans 400 years later.

“Well, Tony,” I finally responded. “The play, to be sure, isn’t going to put any money in your pocket. No poem or story or play will do that unless you put them in an anthology and then sell the textbook to schools like ours.”

“I don’t want that,” Tony declared. “I want to own my own landscaping business. How is reading this play going to help me with that?”

Another pause. More twittering among his classmates. Once again, I engaged in an internal search for a convincing explanation.

I should have said: “That’s a great question, Tony. Reading about Julius Caesar, although Shakespeare presents him in a fictional way, prompts us to consider those who have authority over us, like an employer or a supervisor. Or if you’re the employer, the kind of individuals you would hire. You certainly want employees who will be loyal, but do you also want them to be ambitious?

“Shakespeare’s language can be challenging, but it makes us examine our own ways of communication both orally and in print. Effective communication skills are very important in any business these days.

“Furthermore, this play has several themes, and analyzing Shakespeare’s main points about loyalty, betrayal, and vengeance can help us in our own business relationships. How often do we hear about companies laying off hundreds of employees or CEOs being fired? Consider Marc Antony in this play. Is he more loyal to Caesar or to Rome? How many employees today show true loyalty to the company president or even the company itself?

“Critical thinking is a key demand from employers. They want employees who can analyze a problem and find solutions readily, much like we are doing with this play as we figure out why Brutus and the other Roman senators feel justified in assassinating Caesar. Are their actions justified or not?

“Also note that we are reading many scenes out loud, prompting students to cooperate to read a scene correctly. Employers want employees who have the ability to collaborate effectively to produce successful projects, much like Brutus and his fellow conspirators collaborate to assassinate Caesar. You are getting all those skills by reading this entertaining play.”

I wish in hindsight I had said all that, but I actually said, “Landscaping? Maybe the play will teach you to hire employees who will be loyal to you and not speak critically of you behind your back.”

Tony slumped in his seat and gazed grudgingly at his text. As we returned to Act III, I made a mental note to prepare a more cogent response for future students who asked a similar question. Indeed, how will any of what I do in the classroom put money in the pockets of my students? How am I actually making my students career ready? Where does my subject matter connect directly to career readiness?

I believe school districts should promote connections between what students are learning in the classrooms and the expectations and demands of the workplace. Teachers must connect their learning activities to the expectations demanded by 21st century employers. Moreover, school curricula should reflect a global approach to career expectations, and as career trends evolve, so should our approach to teaching, for instance, Shakespeare’s plays.

Unfortunately, according to ACT, “far too many U.S. students lack college and career readiness (CCR).” They are graduating from high school both unprepared for college and the workforce.

But what actually is career readiness? Here are some definitions:

From the National PTA: “College and Career Readiness means that a student is prepared to go directly to work or enroll and succeed – without remediation – in a variety of postsecondary institutions so that they are ready to enter a career of their choice.”

From the Career Readiness Partner Council: “A career-ready person effectively navigates pathways that connect education and employment to achieve a fulfilling, financially-secure and successful career . . . To be career ready in our ever-changing global economy requires adaptability and a commitment to lifelong learning, along with mastery of key knowledge, skills and dispositions that vary from one career to another and change over time as a person progresses along a developmental continuum.”

And from Careerreadynow.org:  “A career-ready person is proficient in the core academic subjects, as well as in technical topics. This foundational knowledge base includes competence in a broad range of academic subjects grounded in rigorous internationally- benchmarked state standards—such as the common core state standards for English language arts and mathematics. It also includes a level of technical-skill proficiency aligned to a chosen career field and pathway, and the ability to apply both academic and technical learning in the context of a career.”

In the past, students were deemed career reading if they demonstrated strong skills in two main academic areas: English (reading and writing) and math. In addition, the focus for college and career readiness emerged primarily at the high school level. In short, the higher a student’s GPA or class rank or SAT scores or ACT scores, the more likely he or she was college and career ready.

Clearly, career readiness hinges on a more comprehensive criteria today. Different employers, to be sure, can have different expectations. For instance, the skills needed by a retail clerk certainly differ from those required of a carpenter, but all careers share some common requirements. Although document literacy in reading and numerical literacy in math still remain important, the focus now must include the noncognitive skills, for example, like personality, cooperation, punctuality, and diligence. Teachers can certainly observe these skills in students at any grade level, and thus, they deserve more attention as predictors of career-readiness.

How efficiently and thoroughly students gather information and use technology are also important to career readiness.  According to a study by the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, 45 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being taken by computers within the next two decades. Indeed, future employees will need to be tech savvy and well-traveled in the digital universe.

Quirky Backgrounds of Ohio Writers

Exposing Ohio’s Great Writers

Did you know that Columbus native R. L. Stine’s books have outsold even Stephen King and J.K. Rowling?  That Cleveland writer Les Roberts was once the head writer for the Hollywood Squares?  Or that Nikki Giovanni, who grew up in Cincinnati, was once a finalist for a Grammy Award?  In fact, many of Ohio’s most famous writers have accomplishments and histories that remain unknown to even their most devoted readers.

There have been several firsts for Ohio writers. Akron native Rita Dove, for example, was the first African-American and the youngest ever Poet Laureate of the United States. When she was hired by Princeton University, Toni Morrison, originally from Lorain, became the first black woman writer to hold a named chair at an Ivy League University.  Accepting the position, Morrison said, “I take teaching as seriously as I do my writing.”  Morrison was also the first black woman (and the last American) to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature (1993).

Les Roberts, who grew up in Illinois but now writes in Cleveland,won the very first “Best First Private Eye Novel Contest” for his book An Infinite Number of Monkeys, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, R.L. Stine is the world’s best-selling children’s author.

Higher education has certainly dominated many Ohio writers’ lives. Andre Norton (Alice Mary Norton from Cleveland) attended Western Reserve University (1930-1932) preparing first for a career as a librarian.  Nikki Giovanni graduated with honors from Fisk University in 1968 and since then has received 25 honorary degrees.  Dove won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Germany at the University of Tubingen before joining the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and earning a Masters’ Degree in 1977.  Toledoan P.J. O’Rourke attended Miami (OH) University, majoring in English, and then went on to Johns Hopkinswhere he earned an M.A. in English.

Both Stine and Harlan Ellison, another Cleveland native, attended The Ohio State University, although Ellison was kicked out for hitting one of his professors. Roberts attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Roosevelt University (1954–1956), and Xenia native Arthur Schlesinger graduated from Harvard.  Finally, Ohio State University professor Lee Abbott seems to emerge as the most prominent educator as he has taughtat Colorado College, Washington University, Rice University, Case Western Reserve University, and The Ohio State University.

Writing was not always these writers’ only professional interest.  Gloria Steinem, who was born in Toledo, worked as a Playboy bunny in New York. Lee Abbott aspired to be a professional golfer, and Toni Morrisonhoped one day to become a ballerina.  Les Roberts was once a Hollywood actor, young adult author Sharon Draper was a teacher in Cincinnati, and Cleveland native Antwone Fisher worked as a corrections officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Harlan Ellison has the most dramatic series of non-writing jobs.  He has worked as a tuna fishermannear Galveston, Texas; a crop-picker in Louisiana; a truck driver in North Carolina; along with being a short order cook, cab driver, book salesman, door-to-doorbrush salesman, and even an actor at the Cleveland Playhouse as a youth.

Unfortunately, there has been early trauma for some Ohio writers. Gloria Steinem lived as a child with a mother who was institutionalized in a sanatorium periodically after suffering a nervous breakdown that left her an invalid and, at times, violent. In addition, after Steinem’s parents divorced, her father left them without any financial support.  This, coupled with the way Steinem observed doctors treat her mother’s illness, had a profound effect on her view of social injustices.

Ellison’s brief tenure at Ohio State Universitywas cut short after he was expelled for hitting a professor who had, Ellison says, criticized his skill as a writer.

Antwone Fisher probably experienced the most personal troubles, after, having been born in an Ohio prison, he lived through the murder of his father, abuse by a foster family, reform school, and homelessness. Fisher says, “I think back upon a childhood full of longing for belonging, and see my life now as what I have created out of my dreams. An image comes to mind of Mrs. Brown at the orphanage in Cleveland, me sitting at her side, telling her, ‘you’ll read about me someday.’ I was definitely dreaming then with no evidence of that ever being possible, I clung to that preposterous vision and with the force of those dreams willed it and made it happen. Not because I needed to be famous, but because I needed a world that made me feel uninvited to be wrong. So I imagined myself free, I imagined myself loved, I imagined myself … as somebody.”

Indeed, we can learn much about writing from these Ohio authors.  Stine says, “When I write, I try to think back to what I was afraid of or what was scary to me, and try to put those feelings into books.”  Abbott claims, “I don’t write to instruct anybody about anything. I’ve got nothing to tell people that they didn’t already know by the time they got to be fourteen. There’s really nothing new for me to teach people. I want people to be moved — to have on the page what I’ve got between my ears somehow as I subordinate myself to these people that seem to have galvanized my imagination.” Abbott likens himself to a “guy who’s in the bar, and it’s fifteen minutes until closing time, and he’s decided that he’s just going to cut to the quick with the story about the world as he knows it.”

Many Ohio writers got their start as children. Stine began writing fiction at age 9 when he discovered a typewriter in the attic and refused to play outside, preferring to type stories indoors instead.  Nortonbegan her literary career by not only editing her high school newspaper but also writing her first novel while still in her teens.  Clevelander Sharon Draper claims that in elementary school, “I inhaled books and knowledge” by reading almost every book in her elementary school library.

Beyond their best-selling books, Ohio’s writers’ achievements are special. Pulitzer prizes have gone to Dove (Poetry, 1987), Morrison (Fiction, 1988), and Schlesinger (Nonfiction, 1946, 1965). Mademoiselle Magazine, The LadiesHome Journal, and Ebony Magazinehave all honored Nikki Giovanni as theirWoman of the Year, over two dozen cities have awarded her Keys, and an admiring scientisteven named a new bat species after her.  Gloria Steinem has received an Emmy citation along with the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. R.L. Stine is a three-time winner of the Nickelodeon’s Kid Choice Award, and Sharon Draper was the National Teacher of the Year in 1997.  The Science Fiction Writers Association named their prestigious award for young adult fiction the Andre Norton Award.

Ohio’s writers are a creative group who have either lived or grew up in the state’s major cities.  Their talents stretch beyond their writing:  Just listen to former high school majorette Rita Dove play the cello or to Nikki Giovanni read her poetry with gospel music as a background (She has received the Best Spoken Word Album given by the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers).Harlan Ellison did a voice-over for a Scooby Doo episode, and P.J. O’Rourke is a prominent political analyst.  Lee Abbott, who grew up in the Southwest but now calls Columbus home, may summarize the diverse and eclectic nature of Ohio’s writers best when he admits:“I just don’t understand anything about that part of the world [Ohio]. It’s too green and too wet, and there are no vistas. I can’t understand what the people are saying half the time. It just seems like an alien culture.”

My Last Year of Life (in School)

Debut Novel Exposes the Drama Inside America’s Schools Manos’s “Last Year of Life (in School)” Dramatizes the Dysfunctional Status of Public Education

This debut novel is a semi-autobiographical story told in a diary/epistolary format about teacher Ethan Miller during his last year of teaching. Teachers, school administrators, and parents, especially those who have children attending public schools, will be enthralled by My Last Year of Life (in School) and gain an understanding of the dramatic and sometimes disturbing events that happen in a public high school, emerging much like a popular reality television program since it also involves the issues and tragedies that educators confronted all over the country during the 2012-2013 school year, including the Chicago teachers’ strike, the Atlanta cheating scandal, and the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

Praise for My Last Year of Life (in School):

“Surprising and honest, Keith Manos gives us a behind-the-scenes look at a teacher’s last year in a school he once loved.” – Sarah Willis (author of Some Things That Stay and A Good Distance)

“I could really relate to the characters and events in Keith’s novel. It was almost like he was describing my own school day. As I read, I found myself at times nodding my head, laughing out loud, or sighing with concern. I’m starting to wonder what my last year of teaching will be like.” [Sarah Kelly – Special Education teacher, Hyman G. Rickover Naval Academy, Chicago, Illinois]

“The truth is out. Ethan Miller (Manos’s alter ego in the classroom) exposes what a typical public school teacher deals with on a daily basis. I am a retired teacher with 30 years experience in the classroom and could identify with every page. Most people hear stories about the public school classroom and sympathize with teachers but to read it page after page makes the truth almost too real. This is a must read for any administrator, parent, and teacher. My Last Year of Life would be an interesting text in an education class to analyze Ethan Miller’s handling of the many conflicts and to discuss alternate actions or agree on what he decided to do in the heat of the moment. I laughed, I shook my head in frustration and understanding, and I cried at the end (almost).” [John Korhlrieser – retired math teacher, Fairfax County Schools, VA]

“I really enjoyed reading Keith’s novel, and I think it’s gutsy of him to portray a public school teacher’s daily life as it truly is. My Last Year of Life (in School) shows what’s sad, what’s funny, and what’s tragic about teaching today, and I wonder how many other schools across this country are like Ethan Miller’s Bayview High School.” [Andrea Manes – retired science teacher, Richmond Heights Secondary School, OH]

As a result of its introspective tone and unique exploration of a teacher’s plight in today’s teaching climate, anyone wishing to be a part of the national conversation regarding education in America will connect with Keith Manos’ book, My Last Year of Life (in School).  This book positions its readers to observe the skill and grit needed to excel as a teacher.   In addition, it leaves all parents, educators, and citizens with a burning question: Am I paying enough attention to the schools in my community?  [J.D. Uebler – Culver Academies, Senior instructor and Humanities Department Chair]

Teaching College Credit Plus

College Credit Plus program prompts excitement, concerns

Keith Manos teaches English Composition 1 through the College Credit Plus program at Riverside High School in Painesville Township on Nov. 2. Tawana Roberts — The News-Herald

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By Tawana Roberts, The News-Herald

POSTED: 11/06/17, 7:57 PM EST

While there are many benefits to students receiving college credit prior to graduating from high school, there are some concerns.

According to the Ohio Department of Higher Education, the College Credit Plus program is open to any Ohio student in seventh through 12th grade, which means a 12-year-old could take courses at any Ohio public or participating college.

“That’s when it gets challenging,” said Riverside Guidance Director Scott Bailis. “What we have found here is even when our ninth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th- graders taking English composition, who have different backgrounds in writing, all of a sudden come together, the ninth- and 10th-graders who did not have as much writing experience struggled more. The instructor could not just stop and say, ‘I have to bring these students up to speed’, they have to just keep going.”

Keith Manos, who teaches CCP English Composition 1 at Riverside, said he treats every student the same.“I treat them like college students, because they are college students,” said Manos, who is also an adjunct professor in English at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland.

Despite questions about a student’s ability to complete advanced work, high schools are not allowed to place any restrictions on student participation in College Credit Plus. The ODHE said each institution of higher education sets its own standards for measuring students’ college-readiness.

However, Bailis said he tries to provide students and parents with as much information as he can to help them make an informed decision. “When we have a College Credit Plus meeting and introduce the program, I talk to them about the social and maturity side of things,” he said. “Most ninth-graders don’t have the writing background and most are just not emotionally ready for the rigors of college-level English class. We stress at our meeting — don’t just be in a hurry to accumulate college credits. I know they’re free and it’s a great program, but it is a maturity component of it.”

CCP students are expected to be accountable, so being mature is essential.

Manos and Bailis emphasized that because of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, CCP students’ grades and progress are not shared with parents or guidance counselors.

Bailis said this is a challenge for the guidance department, because counselors do not know if a student is on-track to graduation until after they receive the final grades.“It’s hard to tell a student that they will not graduate because they did not pass a CCP course that they needed to meet graduation requirements,” he said.

Meanwhile as more students are signing up for CCP, there may be fewer students in advanced placement classes.“It definitely hurts the AP program,” Bailis said. “There are a lot of advantages to the AP program. Colleges really like it because of the consistency and I see a lot of our top students sticking to AP.”

While the future of CCP and AP are unclear, both programs support college readiness. Overall, parents, students and educators find them advantageous.

 

Radio Appearances

Keith WARFI was the main guest on WARF Radio 1350 AM Akron, discussing my novel My Last Year of Life (in School) and issues related to education today with Tom and Joe on their afternoon show.

Every wrestling season I join Guy Trinetti, Sr.  on WINT Radio 1330 AM to provide commentary on the  wrestling season and individual competitions. The picture below shows Guy and me at the Kenston Invitational Tournament.

 

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Here are Guy Trinetti and me at the St. Ignatius v. Lake Catholic match at Lake Catholic, February, 2019.On the Radio 2.jpg