Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Up and down and up and down...

Teaching is a constant roller coaster. I went from a day like yesterday that was amazing to a day like today. Today was tough. It was the same lesson with a vastly different result. Some classes were outright hostile and others were completely apathetic. I think the apathy is harder to deal with than the outright hostility. I ended the day feeling dejected and drained. No matter what I did or said today, I simply couldn't get them to stay focused or care. Days like yesterday make me want to keep doing this. Days like today make me want to simply give up.

I wonder and sort of dread what tomorrow will bring...

Monday, April 27, 2015

What can I do...?

As a teacher, I love my content, and that is most likely true for most teachers. I am an English nerd. I love a good story, a well written sentence, a gorgeously chosen word. I think it is important for my students to have an understanding of how to communicate effectively both through speaking and writing. I hope to help my students learn to, if not love, at the very least enjoy reading. But more than any of that, I hope to help my students build character and broaden their view of society and the world.

We're starting The Crucible this week. For the past month or so I've been mulling over how I want to approach this play and make it interesting and relevant for my students. I decided that I would approach it as a mirror for high school, social groups, reputations, bullying etc. To start us off, today I had my students write a journal response about reputations and then we had a class discussion.

From the get-go, my students surprised me with their thoughts about reputations and social groups. I had predicted that students would care a lot about what their peers thought of them and about their reputations at school. To my surprise, almost everyone said they worried more about what their teachers thought of them than how their peers viewed them. It was a reminder to me that even the most stubborn and difficult of students still wants their teacher to think well of them. Now, of course, this will not apply to every single teenager that crosses my path, but it was a good reminder to me the majority want to do well.

My 4th period blew me away. In the course of our discussion on reputations, a student made the observation that there is a double standard when it comes to girls and boys. Up until this point I'd been mostly moderating the discussion, but letting the students take it where they wanted. As the class continued to talk about reputations and gender, I noticed it was, with one exception, the boys talking about the girls' collective experience. I found it interesting that the female students in my class had, in essence, surrendered their voice. They were allowing their male peers to describe their female experience. I let it continue for a few moments before I stopped the conversation and asked them two questions.

  • Who was doing all the talking? (the boys)
  • What/who were they talking about? (the girls' experience)
The class was silent for a few moments before the boys started chiming in and explaining why girls don't speak up. The most vocal of my female students continued to attempt to share her thoughts, but her voice was drowned out by her male peers.

Again, I stopped the class. I told the boys that for the next five minutes they weren't allowed to talk. I wanted to hear from the ladies in the class. Even at that point only two-three girls spoke up out of 10. One girl said she doesn't speak up because people don't take her seriously. She said a guy can make the same comment that was dismissed when she makes it, but is praised or considered when a boy makes it She continued to say that boys often don't let girls finish their thought or will shut them down right away. 

Up until this point, my male students were seriously struggling to not speak. They were raising their hands and I had to remind them multiple times that it wasn't their turn to talk. One student stood and faced the wall to prevent himself from talking. When my female student made the comment about getting shut down, a male student couldn't contain himself anymore and interjected "We do not!" quite vehemently. While that got a few chuckles from the class, I was so impressed by my students' willingness to discuss these issues AND to honestly consider their complicity in the accepted sexism of our culture. I think some of my male students were truly disturbed and they wanted to know how to fix it How can they change it? That lead to an interesting (student-led) discussion on privilege. 

Sometimes the weight of the responsibility I have to these young men and women presses down on me. At the end of class one student, a young man, looked at me and asked (expecting an answer), "What can I do?" 

I'm not sure what I told him is the right answer. I mean, what is the fix to the gendered bias and sexism of our culture? I told him to be aware of privilege in all its forms and to stop and think about those who are silent. Why are they silent? Can you encourage them to to speak? I told all of them - male and female - don't let people take away your voice. Don't let anyone take away your truth.

And lest anyone think that we didn't talk about the content, I was able to  nicely tie the entire conversation back to The Crucible. We talked briefly about the Madonna/whore dichotomy and they got a crash course in feminist literary theory. We didn't talk about the historical and contemporary context of the play - but I think it was an hour well spent. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Summer reading list...

Earlier this week a student of mine asked me for a few suggestions for summer reading. She was currently reading The Scarlet Letter and wanted to know which "classic" she should read next. IT was actually quite fun to put together a list of books that have stayed with me. Some of them I want to now go back and reread.

I started with a regular sized post-it note. Three post-its later I realized that was illogical and switched to a large, lined note card. When it became apparent that wasn't going to work, I typed the whole mess up. Since posting about this on Instagram (because that's how I roll...) I've had several people ask for a copy. SO, what follows is what I gave to my student. And I'm proud to say that yesterday she came to class, fresh from the library, toting a copy of Anna Karenina under her arm.

I'd love to get suggestions from ya'll of books to add or that I may have forgotten to list.


So, I may have gone a little overboard, but I started writing titles and I would think of another title, then another and another... It was sort of a domino effect. Not all of these titles are “classics” in the sense that they’re really old, but they’re classics in the sense that they’re good books.

Classics – European
*Anything by Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion are my favorites)
*Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
*Villette – Charlotte Bronte
*Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell
*The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
*The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
*The Importance of Being Earnest – play – Oscar Wilde
*Lord of the Flies – William Golding
*The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy
Pygmalion (play) – George Bernard Shaw (the movie My Fair Lady is based on the play)
*Night – Elie Wiesel
*The Four Feathers – A.E.W. Mason
*Anna Karenina  - Leo Tolstoy (Russian – Russian authors can be hard, but good story)
*The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
*Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

Classics –  American
* My Antonia – Willa Cather
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass- Frederick Douglass
*Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
*Short Stories of Edgar Allen Poe
*The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Narrative of Sojourner Truth – Sojourner Truth (memoir)
*To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
*Animal Farm – George Orwell
*The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
*East of Eden – John Steinbeck
*Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (African American Literature)
*Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston (African American Literature)
*A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison (African American Literature)
The Things They Carried  - Tim O’Brien (contemporary)

* Books I have already read. The others are on my list to read. Many of these books have film (sometimes multiple) adaptions. Many of these may also be available for free download or from Barnes and Noble classics series for $3-$5 apiece. The county library will definitely have most, if not all of these titles.