I will meet my CHS class next Wednesday. A week from today. Wowie.
I spent some time this past month in Mom’s hospital room trying to put together the bones of a plan for this class, then abandoned the effort as essentially pointless. I have no idea what kinds of skills the kids will come to the classroom in possession of, neither do I know where their interests and passions lie, so putting together a plan which may be completely useless in the reality of my classroom seemed a waste of my time. Carrie (she’s the director of the charter school) confided in me that she doesn’t have a lot of faith in the education these students have received in English over the last few years, so she’s warned me to be prepared for the possibility that we may have to spend a good chunk of the semester doing a lot of remedial, foundational stuff. That information inspired me to lay aside my planning activities until I have a better idea of what my kids will need.
Our runway into the school year is a little weird. We go to classes next Wednesday and Thursday, we have Friday through Monday off, then we start back for real on Tuesday the 8th. For all that I have resented those first two days in the past (“why the hell do they do that?! Why can’t they just start after Labor Day the way we did when we were kids?!), I’m kind of loving them now. Those two days will give me a chance to get to know my kids, to find out what they think of themselves as writers, readers, and thinkers, and to set the tone for what I hope will be a fun – but rigorous – 16 weeks together.
I’m planning on using two textbooks as my guides for the semester; The Curious Writer and The Language of Composition. My students won’t have these books – to the best of my knowledge, there is no textbook available to the seniors – but *I* have access to them, and I find both of them together to be just about perfect for what I’m going to try to do.
The Curious Writer is a delightful text that reminds students (and, perhaps more importantly, teachers) that writing is, foremost, a form of inquiry; that we often don’t know what we think or feel about something until we write about it. It encourages students to write “badly;” to set aside the inner editor and worry less about the fussy details in favor of really saying what they want to say – once they’ve got the big idea working for them, they can clean up the details later. Very often (and I’ll admit to being guilty of this myself), writers focus on the micro “rules” of syntax and grammar rather than looking at the macro of the bigger picture – how a piece of writing conveys its meaning. The red pen of English teachers past has frightened a lot of student writers into thinking that if they can’t turn out a pretty piece of writing on the first try, then they shouldn’t bother writing at all. I am determined to NOT be the English teacher that scares the kids into thinking they can’t write.
The Language of Composition text is a gorgeous compilation of grouped pieces that model particular rhetorical strategies and choices, and which asks questions intended to inspire students to close reading and critical thinking. Designed with the goal of helping students succeed on the AP English exam, the book uses readings, mini lessons in rhetoric and grammar, and interviews with writers featured in the text about their own writing process to model for students how to think and write clearly. Where the Curious Writer is playful and seemingly free-form, The Language of Composition is more ordered and methodical. Taken together, I think that these books will serve as a sturdy framework around which I can build a really dynamic class.
I believe that, in the swirl of emotions I’m feeling about going back to work, excitement has the biggest proportion. I don’t feel especially nervous or trepidatious; I have no doubt that I can hit this class out of the park (and have a great time doing it). I am, however, a little – how do I describe it? On alert? – about the fact that I’m entering an entirely unknown work environment where the fact of my presence may not be welcomed by all concerned; I think that the current English teacher is seeing the proverbial writing on the wall and eyes my hiring with quite a bit of suspicion (not unwarrented, I might add; I, too, am under the impression that I’m being brought in so that she can be eased out). I’m hopeful that this will be mitigated by the fact that I’m only in the school for two hours a day.
How’s YOUR runway going?