10/28/15: I will never fail to be amazed that students get to me as seniors and don’t have the basics of writing down. Usually it’s due to huge gaps in attendance during their school careers; occasionally, it’s due to aggressive laziness; more rarely, it’s because they have very real learning issues. I’m always willing to work with kids who will work with me which means showing up, asking for help, and following through on what I ask them to do. Sometimes it backfires because they don’t want to work with/for me and sometimes life gets in the way.
The other day a kid accused me of false advertising because while I run a slacker class (I’m lenient on due dates, I’ll treat each situation differently, I’m okay with tangents, I don’t mind a certain level of noise most of the time) I expect the work to be solid. I want my students to show growth in thinking and communicating. I want them to turn in work they are proud of rather than the bare minimum to get points. I want every kid to move forward—I want them to end the year better than they started it, so I try to meet them where they start.
Sometimes I fail. Sometimes they fail.
Most of the time we all succeed (even if it isn’t testable).
4/16/16: Last week I had a kid accuse me of lazy notes because my notes for a book inlcuded the larger questions I’d like them to think about. They can find out about the minutiae of author’s life, the details of a time period (versus the very general overview I tend to give). I look at the general character archetypes and how the characters both fit in and don’t fit in. I like to push the nontraditional interpretations of literature.
The Scarlet Letter is actually a condemnation of the close-minded communities and their group think that centered around the church. It was a Romantic era fairy tale with surprising things to say about what is holy, what is repentance, and what redemption really takes. I maintain that Chillingworth starts the novel as the most holy character and in the end he is redeemed through his three small acts of treating Pearl as he would his own child. I also maintain that Dimmesdale is never redeemed, because his hypocrisy is so deeply ingrained that he knows every confession won’t be believed despite what he tries to tell other characters and himself.
My sophomores shifted my perspective on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which I had always taken as a traditional boys’ adventure story that developed parallel technologies for things that were a hundred or more years ahead of their time. Apparently, it is also a love story between Aronnax and Nemo that spawns a love story between Ned Land (after he recognizes where Aronnax’s attention truly lies) and Conseil. I’m still shaking my head over this one.
Much to the consternation of the three students who openly despise me and the two students who are actually as smart as they think they are, I maintain that Beowulf is a canny and intelligent fighter. Pulling text from the entire story there is a great deal of support for this. He plays the part of the Big Damn Hero while operating as an unofficial emissary and spy for his own King and Queen. His line holds the throne for fifty years of chaos and upheaval in their region before ultimately losing to “the dragon [army]” and getting swallowed up by the Swedes.
Spring and summer are great times of reflection for me as I look at what has worked and what hasn’t. What warnings will next year’s students need besides (I believe some work is preparation and practice and not for a grade)? I change current and upcoming units to fit whatever tweaks I’m already planning for next year. This is what we do as teachers: we plan, we apply, we assess and evaluate, we reflect, we change, we adapt, and we reassess and re-evaluate.
I still don’t want to do anything else for the next eighteen years. I can’t wait to see how society and education continue to change. I’m safe in the knowledge that every year and every group will be different as my core goals stay the same.
One last thought, the light at the end of the dock in The Great Gatsby is an epic misdirection. Where should we really be looking?