And Then There Were Two

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.

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7 Comments

Filed under about writing, analysis, concerns, critical thinking, I love my job, self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones, writing

7 responses to “And Then There Were Two

  1. Jenny

    Mrs. Chili,

    I’ve enjoyed meandering around your blog…great stuff! I also share “Shitty First Drafts” with my students every year…I particularly like when she quotes Vonnegut. I’m paraphrasing, but something about being an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth…

    Check out my blog (it’s new-ish and I aspire to update as often as you do!) and add it to your Blogroll if you so desire (jennyslessonslearned.wordpress.com). I’d love to add yours, too!

    Good luck, and enjoy the weekend!
    Jenny

    • WELCOME, Jenny!

      Is the Vonnegut quote in Shitty First Drafts? I got interrupted in the midst of re-reading it with my class this morning (I’m doing a strike-attack on a new freshman class, and the other English teacher came to consult with me about what she’s doing with HER little ones) so I didn’t get all the way through it. Regardless, I LOVE the way she writes, and I love that she makes it all seem accessible.

      I’ll go check you out, but first, I’ve gotta get my ass to a pilates class. One of my health club colleagues is taking her practical exam tonight, and I promised to be one of her participants. Wish me luck; I’m going to need it!

  2. Jenny

    Yes, I think it’s at the very end of the chapter…my copy of Bird by Bird is at school so I can’t glance at it right now…

    Pilates on a Friday night…good for you! I’m sitting at my computer having a drink, which is about all I can muster the energy for right now!

    Thanks for checking out my blog when you get a chance. Feedback welcome!

    Jenny

  3. I love Anne Lamott. Although I just re-read Bird by Bird last Spring, it didn’t dawn on me until just now to show my students “Shitty First Drafts.”

    The good thing about teaching Freshmen Comp classes is that you can tweak high school assignments to make them suitable for your class.

    This was the first semester that I started off the class with Personal Narratives. It not only gives me an idea of where they are as writers but also who they are as individuals.

  4. jrh

    Here’s the thing about Freshmen: They are old enough that you can assume that most of them get how to Do School, so you don’t have to do too much monitoring to make sure that assignments are recorded [somewhere], notes are taken [somewhere], and handouts filed [somewhere], although you may have some students that still need coaching. But, they are not so old that they are Too Cool for School (or you!). Besides, most of them can’t drive, so their social life starts at school; they can see their friends without having to ask someone for a ride to get there.

    You know I love my 9th graders and you know how to find me if you need anything.

  5. Thanks for talking about the internal editor. Mine is ruthless, as well. Sometimes it helps if I drink cranberry vodkas while I write. I love your blog!

  6. gerry rosser

    I’ve read Ann LaMott, both her fiction and her works on writing. My general impression is in the favorable range.

    I have a cruel internal editor. It doesn’t want me to write anything down, even if it will absolutely never be read by anyone but me, that it might find embarrassing.

    By the way, did I tell you that, except for this summer just past, I’ve participated in a summer writing group at Cape Cod for years? Most of the time it was directed by a really nice young woman, but she didn’t do it this year, and I’m wondering if she ever will again. Sigh.

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