I haven't written a post of this type since May, and I tell you, I have missed it! It's been a long summer- or at least long enough to get my fingers aching to tell someone everything that we've been up to in class. Here goes!
Seniors: Last year I taught two senior classes- this year I'm teaching four. My seniors are lively and rambunctious and totally smarter than they appear. We started this year right off by teaching Lord of the Flies. I thought this would be a great started book since it's kind of morbid and twisted and if nothing else, has the virtue of being weird enough to keep 17 year olds interested. This year I felt much more comfortable with the book and felt like I was able to teach it at a much higher level than I did last year. A book is kind of like an individual class- the first time is a bit rough, the second time is better and by the time I teach it three or four times it is a freaking gold mine because I know the material so well.
***Spoilers ahead***. We just finished reading about the deaths of Simon and Piggy. Simon's death especially bothered the students, "But he was such a good guy!" "This author is messed up!" "Jack needs to hang for this!" (For those of you who haven't read it, Simon gets circled by the group of boys who beat him to death thinking that he is a dangerous beast who lives on the island.) Simon's death sparks such fantastic conversation- Was it really an accident? Did they know to some extent that it was Simon? Why did no one stop it? Once we exhausted these questions we were able to take it a level deeper as I posed the question, "Is man a natural savage? Without laws or rules would we all turn in to this? Are we born evil and are only good because society makes us be good or is the good innate in all of us?" Oh these questions sure get them and I LOVED their responses. This is one of the joys of teaching- when you can see their little minds ticking and you can tell they are processing things in there that they've never thought about before. That, and when the big, tough football players get caught up in the discussion and raise their hand and give some crazy, insightful comment and I step back and try to not act too stupidly excited that they hit it right on.
I shared this weird little bonding moment with my fourth period class last week. This is the class that has been the toughest for me so far... loud, rowdy, full of energy at 1:00 in the afternoon. This is the class I had to give a serious yelling to and I even went so far as to call them the most disrespectful group of seniors I have ever come across. After that little "chat" their behavior certainly improved and I have seen some of them noticeably trying to impress me and improve their behavior. I had to have a sub on Tuesday last week for my district training and when I came back on Thursday I joked with them, "When I looked at my watch on Tuesday and it was 1:45 I thought to myself, "Ah, fourth period is giving my sub hell right now." They all laughed proudly, and it was this weird subtle moment where I could feel them coming over to my side. Almost like, "Yah, we give the sub hell now, but we're done doing that to you." Or something? The relationships of high school classes is just about the hardest to explain.
Funniest moment: Introducing Lord of the Flies, I made the students brainstorm everything they would have to do to survive a shipwreck. One socially awkward kid yelled out totally seriously, "Oh I know! First off, is anyone in here morally opposed to cannibalism?!?" Silence. And then an eruption of laughter.
JUNIORS: I'm trying to line up with the way my new school district wants things done so for the first time ever, I am teaching my American literature class in chronological order. I have always wanted to do this, but never been able to because of lack of books at Copper Hills. Well, the new school has books galore so I'm teaching in order, dang it! This means after an introduction assignment and a pre test we found ourselves already starting The Crucible. I did my classic mouse prank on them but it didn't fly over so well as we had only been in school three days when I did it. Usually by the time I do it, the kids and I have built up trust and respect so when they find out it is all a hoax they just kind of roll their eyes and go, "Oh that's our teacher for you! She'll do anything to get a point across!" But, with this brand spanking new group of juniors I think more than anything they were just confused. Oops.
That being said, I still love teaching The Crucible. The fact that we read the whole thing out loud in class does wonders- all kids know what's going on and are caught up with the reading at all times. This year I went all out in the scene that Abigail pretends that Mary Warren is a bird, screaming and yelling and doing whatever it takes to get those kids to understand the text. They ate it up and when the bell rang one girl exclaimed, "I had no idea it was even close to time to go!" SUCCESS! The affair between John Proctor and Abigail has always led to great discussion about the nature of affairs: When is it okay to leave a relationship, can a relationship ever heal after cheating, what is the responsibility of women when their men are involved in scandals. This year the discussion was only so so as students kept getting more and more off track. "Just use birth control" and "Everyone should have an open relationship" were some of the comments I got from my boys. You know 17 year old boys, they understand so well the nuances of sexual relationships...
I absolutely love teaching juniors and this year has been no different. They have been a total joy. I do wish I had more than one junior class. I feel like I have just kind of gotten into "junior mode" by the time the class ends. If it were up to me I would teach at least two, probably three junior classes.
AP LITERATURE: This class I have enjoyed immensely, despite some of the challenges of it. There are only nine in the class so the discussions are much more difficult than the other classes. They are all very smart, but also modest in their brilliance. In regular classes you've got whatever Joe Shmoe yelling his opinion about whatever topic. Sometimes they're on and sometimes they're WAY off but it doesn't much matter for those regular kids- they're just trying to figure it all out. I have noticed the AP students seem much more afraid of failure. Half of the time I will ask a question to the class and they all just stare back at me with these innocent Bambi eyes- none of them wanting to volunteer an answer. As soon as I call on one of them, they totally nail the answer, showing me both that they have completed the reading and that they are extremely insightful and bright- they just don't want anyone else to know that. I can't decide if this is because they are humble about their brilliance or if it is because the class is so small that it feels awkward to them to always know the right answer. Thoughts? And any ideas from you fellow teachers (or anyone!) out there on how to loosen up a smaller class. They are just not having the deep conversations and discussions about literature that I feel like they should be having.
I have felt a bit like I'm swimming in the deep end with AP but we're taking it one day at a time and for now it's working. I have a one day AP conference coming up in October that I am hoping will really help me to feel a bit more like I know what I'm doing. They have already completed two timed writes and I do feel like I will be able to get them ready to just absolutely kill it on the essay section of the test come May. The multiple choice part of the test is much more difficult so we have been doing practice excerpts about once a week.
Right now my struggle with AP is how to cover the material and get them ready for the test AND make the class fun. I feel like some of the fun and light heartedness is lost from my regular classes because I am so worried about getting them ready for the test. Because this is my first year teaching AP I don't know yet how much of the fun stuff that my regular classes do I can do with them and how much I have to take out to focus on some of the heavier content stuff. I'm struggling with the balance. Advice from any AP teachers out there? Help a novice out!
P.S. Have you folks all started reading The Glass Castle yet? We are discussing it on September 26. It is my favorite book that we have done for book club so far. It's a fast read and SO fascinating. Read it! I downloaded it on my nook for $9 and I have not been able to put it down. You will love it!