On Re-Vamping and Re-Amping (Up) My Teaching: A First Quarter Reflection

One—almost—down, and three more to go. No, not glasses of chardonnay, people.

Ahem.

Grading periods. Nine-week grading periods.

The first one of my twenty-eighth year of teaching will end this Friday.

So I thought I should spend some time reflecting on it and my new class of seniors: The Class of 2020. The class with perfect vision, I’ve been told.

I also haven’t blogged in what seems like aaaaages. (Fifty-five days, if you need a count.) It’s not because I have the most fantastically clean house in the county—not by a longshot. (In fact, I’d love for someone else to do it.) Nor is it because my garden was so plentiful I spent all that time harvesting and canning. (All the June rain and forest creatures did it in.) And no, I haven’t been doing the majority of cooking or even laundry and definitely not lawn mowing. (Hubby shout-out: Thank you, Jackson. XO.)

If you pay any attention to my activities on social media at all, I bet that you’ll guess I’ve been spending all my time with  Judson (below left) and Layla (below right), the most beautiful grand babies on earth. But that’s only partly true, too. (And while I have a second, sorry-not-sorry to post so many photos of them. They are absolute miracles, born so so early, and I love them to pieces. I just want to share their sunshine.)

Oh, and did I mention yet that I’m teaching four—FOUR—preps this year? Two different college English classes, two twelfth grade English classes, and a few sections of my Holocaust Studies course (it’s back!). I’d forgotten how exhausting teaching four preps actually is. Just when I think I’m caught up on lesson planning and preparation, I realize I’ve totally forgotten one of the classes, and I have to scramble to pull it together.

But I always do. It’s what teachers do.

So. My new seniors.

We don’t read, they told me. Write? Nope, don’t do that either.

And then I read this Washington Post article and wondered how I could do my part to just get kids reading more.

Here’s my plan: in addition to what I need to cover for standards, my seniors are reading one book a month, and any book that they choose, so long as it meets my genre specifications. I started with horror/thriller, and we’re now in the thick of classics. I’m even allowing audio books, children’s classics, and old favorites from elementary/middle school. I figure, why not? By the end of the year, in addition to whatever I’ve covered, they will have read EIGHT books. Eight. I don’t even do that, and I’m an English teacher. Shazam.

Also, at the end of the week, we have “First Chapter Fridays.” Each senior is assigned one for which they must bring in a book, and I will read the first chapter aloud to the class. So far, I’ve read from Tuesdays with Morrie, Pet Semetary, Wuthering Heights, All But My Life, and A Farewell to Arms. I love it! And even when the titles don’t sound appealing, the kids still want me to read to them. Another win. (Oops. Freudian slip. At first I typed “another wine” there.)

To get them writing more, and in as many different formats as possible, for each book of the month, we’ll have writing extensions. The first was an online book review, but for the classics, a basic literary analysis. Further out, we may write letters, personal narratives, or our own fiction. Who knows? I like to keep my options open to see where students get excited.

This week, I’m tackling my Shakespearean fave, Othello, and when students said they would only volunteer to read/act if they didn’t have to answer questions about each scene, I agreed. Heck, again, why not? Choice is leading to more participation. And as long as I sneak those questions into discussion to check their comprehension, then it’s all good.

Ssshhhhh, keep that to yourself.

I’ve completely revamped and amped up my teaching strategies this year in trying to gain some ground with the “future of tomorrow” in the wake of what seems to be the norm for all of us (read the above article): that TV (and I use that term loosely) is taking precedence over so much. (And don’t get me started with teens and phones. For real. You’d think it was a part of their normal physiology—an extension of their limbs, no wait, a vital organ—they can’t live without!)

In my other classes, things are going swimmingly. My Comp I students have successfully officially made it to mid-terms without any crying of real tears (that I’ve seen), and my Holocaust class (only ten students) is working best as a discussion/critical thinking and sharing/reading group.

I have found that one of my favorite parts of the day, however, is spent with my creative writing girls. (We had been keeping company with a couple of guys, but they both dropped the course. Hmph.) I have been steadily trying to turn them all into writers, and published ones at that. I found out early on that the New York Times was running photography and writing contests for teens, and I was like, “We are so in.” The girls went along with it, and tomorrow, all of their pieces will have been submitted and in the running.

I’M SO EXCITED!

To see what happens!

Next!

Stay tuned, okay?

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