My first five years of teaching included me trying to make sure my students learned something about English, communication, comprehension, and critical thinking while I made all sorts of rookie mistakes. Too many new teachers get pushed into the deep end without lifeguards available.
I didn’t know if I would be walking back into a classroom ever again at the end of year five. I internalized every criticism (valid or not) and I internalized more than my fair share of responsibility for the things I’d screwed up. Luckily, I spent four weeks that summer participating in the Oregon Writing Project at Eastern Oregon University. The people I met and worked with and learned from that summer saved me in several ways. I began to internalize other ideas: not everyone is going to like me and that’s ok; not everyone is going to like the way I teach and that’s ok; I’m never not going to make mistakes and as long as I learn from them/don’t repeat them, then that’s ok; the best teachers of writing are people who write; the best teachers of literature are people who love stories.
I worked with the OWP for most of the next decade and it is one of the most meaningful and best experiences I had as a teacher, because I came away every summer with new ideas for assignments or new approaches to canon literature or better strategies for helping difficult and low-level students.
About eleven years ago, I put together the information I wanted all of my students to be aware of regarding society and storytelling which means we look at historical time periods and trends, philosophies that impact and shape western culture, and how we assess information and the sources of information. I am also the teacher who will read Beowulf out loud to my students so that we can discuss traditional and non-traditional interpretations of characterization, plot development, and the use of various tropes; the quality of the storytelling depends on the medium/genre/time period. It all goes together and I want my kids to see that. I’m constantly revising this document, adding things, removing things, reorganizing it. My Frame of Reference document hold the notes on what I want students to understand and learn during the two to three years they may have me as a teacher.
I am always looking for ways to be better. I am a very different teacher from the naive do-gooder who faced her first classroom at the tender age of 22. I’ve also come a long way from the teacher who was terrified of most administrators at 25. I still run a different classroom; I still admit when I’m wrong. I don’t lose my temper as easily or in the same ways. I have learned the best ways to inspire most of my students toward finishing high school or passing my classes. I still make my own wiggle room.
For the last three years I’ve become certified to teach WR115 and I taught two years of WR121. WR115 is a class that colleges developed for the students who didn’t have strong enough research skills or enough depth of thinking; it’s an elective class designed to help students write in college while WR121 is the first writing class most students take toward any sort of Liberal Arts degree. These have driven a number of changes in what I prioritize each year and how I approach key skills with my students. And, I found much of the Common Core to be focusing on those same skills (unrealistically, but we can’t have everything).
I adore what I do even on the days I hate it. I’m here to teach my students to assess information and its sources before accepting and incorporating it into their knowledge base. I’m here to teach my students how to incorporate the words and ideas of others without plagiarizing. I’m here to help my students write better paragraphs/papers/emails/cover letters/applications. I’m here for varied and ranging class discussions that allow kids who are more verbal to shine and allow kids who are less verbal to access new ways of looking at the world. I’m here to teach my kids that failure is a really important learning tool. I’m here to remind them that consent isn’t just important in health class—big brother, little brother, and hundreds of corporations are tracking us all. I’m here for the kids who hate me, but learn something anyway. I’m here for the kids who need someone to believe they can pass the class, that they can graduate from high school, that they can become functional adults.
I let my students know about some of my failures, some of my quirks, and how my views on things have changed. When I first heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, I was one of many who said “should all lives matter?” Over the course of 2012 I read what people had to say. I listened when people who hasn’t grown up white in a fairly rural and sparsely populated part of Oregon talked. I read various postings on several social media sites. I was reminded by several events in my life that listening is really important (and sometimes all we can do to help or show respect). I’m starting to understand, as best I can, why Black Lives Matter—institutionalized racism is still a problem.
The image at the top is from the end of my notes. Feel free to correct anything I’ve gotten wrong if you read this.