I was given a freshman class at CHS today. I met them for the first time this morning.
I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the idea of teaching freshmen. While they are, technically, still within the range of grades that I am certified to teach, I’ve not taught kids that young – and with skill levels that fundamental – since my internship four years ago. I’m going to have to be kind and allow myself some room and time to figure out how I’m going to approach this group.
More than that, I’m going to have to start calling in some of my high school teacher friends to find out what THEY do with their freshman classes, to have them tell me what works and doesn’t work with kids at this level, and encourage them to kick my ass to make me do some serious creative thinking about how to present materials in a way that will hook both the daughter of the poet laureate who sits at the front of the room and the skater boys who sit at the back.
Got any ideas?
On another note, just days after lamenting that I’m not quite hitting my stride with my seniors, I felt something “click” today. I’m really starting to get to know these kids, and we’ve established a pretty great feeling in the class. I really feel that most of the kids are completely engaged (and, if you teach high school, you know that’s really saying something!) and even the kids who aren’t really buying into the culture aren’t giving off the “I’d rather be getting a root canal without novocaine than be sitting here for an hour and a half” vibe. All in all, it fairly rocks.
I announced to my seniors today that we’re going to start, you know, WRITING. Up to now, we’ve just been talking about writing – or, to be more specific, we’ve been talking about THINKING about writing – and it’s time to get off our proverbial butts and get to it. Our first paper will be the personal narrative, and I sent them home this afternoon with “thinking homework” for the weekend.
I want for them to actually DO the things we’ve spent the last week talking about; specifically, pre-writing in whatever way they do it – mapping, free writing, thinking or talking, whatever works for them – and to come in on Monday morning with answers to these three questions: What’s your topic? Who is your intended audience (keeping in mind that, though I’ll be their READER, I don’t necessarily have to be their AUDIENCE)? What’s your purpose? Once they’ve got the answers to those questions firmly decided, the writing can well and truly begin.
I also sent them home with the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I know for sure that I’ve got at least two kids (both girls, coincidentally) who are going to have a terrible time allowing themselves to write badly the first time. They’ve got the same problem I do; they’re in possession of internal editors who are intractable bitches. “Really?” the bitch whispers in our brains, “You’re going to say THAT? You’re going to use THOSE words to do it? Really?!“ Learning to outrun that miserable crone has been, I have to admit, one of the more freeing experiences of my life. Giving myself permission to play on the page – to write things that may or may not have anything to do with what I’m aiming for, to experiment with other voices and other personnas, and to do it all without having to worry about whether or not I’ll need to defend or justify it later – has allowed me to not only discover who I really am as a writer, but also to discover what I really want to say. Lamott says that, sometimes, we have to pour out five pages of utter crap to find that one glorious paragraph that surprises even us. That happens to me a lot more than I would have cared to admit as an undergraduate student (who was only interested in the GPA, to be honest with you; she was well-intentioned, that girl, but terribly misguided).
I love my job.