Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tiny Dancer

The summer is winding down, and I really can't stand the idea of going back to work. As much as I sometimes bitch, there are many worse ways to spend the day than chillin' with Sophie Gene.

Sophie went to day care today, and I went in to my classroom to start working on my planning for next year. My goal is to have the whole year loosely mapped out--and to build really solid unit plans for all of first quarter. The beginning of the year is always tricky at my particular school, because we never really know who is going to turn up. We'll get a hand full from the previous year, plus a bunch of state custody kids, but it usually takes the kids from the "regular" high schools at least 3 weeks to fuck up enough to be sent over to us.

So I usually start out with a short unit on brain development while I'm waiting for the troops to arrive. The kids bitch that they shouldn't have to learn human biology in English--but I feel like they really can benefit from knowing exactly how the brain stores information. We talk about how threats (like tigers and tests and ex-girlfriends)--even perceived threats-- move brain function to the brain stem--the fight or flight center of the brain which has no language--and no higher thinking capabilities. We talk about how much water the brain needs--about how much sleep the brain needs. Of course, all the while they are reading and writing and listening and speaking--all of the things that they are supposed to be doing in English--they just don't notice.

From there, I go several different directions, depending on the class. My 11th grade English kids will start off with The Crucible. Our essential question for that unit (the essential question is the "so what?"--the why are we even learning about this in the first place) is "How do the Puritan roots of our country still affect our daily lives today?" We watch quite a bit of the movie--but also read a lot and do some written responses and some acting. I end The Crucible with a mock trial in which we put Abigale Williams on trial for depraved indifference to human life and conspiracy to commit murder. So far--the county attorney has totally stood me up, and I've had to learn a lot about both of these charges on-line--but the kids have a surprisingly good time with the trial. Most of them are pretty familiar with court room procedure, having themselves been involved in the court system.

10th grade is a little trickier. With them, I start out with the writing right away--and hit it pretty hard. Most of them never knew or have totally forgotten what a paragraph is.
They write short, one paragraph reflections for me about themselves--on topics like school lunch in elementary school, their first bike, their first day of high school. We do this while reading The House on Mango Street, a beautiful little novella that you should read if you haven't.

Sorry to give you a play by play of work stuff. It's just kind of consuming my thoughts now that there are only a couple of weeks until school starts.

If anyone has great (or terrible) memories of high school English, please leave a comment. I'm always looking for new ideas.

Today's best thing about being a mom:

Today's worst thing about being a mom:
Thinking about going back to work


KATIEmagic said...

I had a wonderful English teacher for 3 of the 4 years of high school. It sounds like your classroom is a lot like hers. I loved that we got to read more than just the normal "Dead White Guy" lit, and watch movies and once we divided into groups and filmed our own scenes from Othello. My favorite book that she walked us through was A Brave New World. It has really stuck with me, and I re-read it every so often. Because of her guidance I was thisclose to majoring in lit in college. Alas, ohh la la, le French won out.

NME said...

Once again you show yourself to be a very fantastic teacher. You use so many ways to get the kids involved and interested. Your 10th grade sessions remind me of a class I took called Literature for Personal Development. As part of the class we kept a writing journal where we wrote on personal topics like our histories, families, and stands on moral dilemmas. And who doens't like writing about themselves?
I loved House on Mango Street. Also liked When I was Puerto Rican.

Marksthespot said...

It's great to read about your approach to the kids you teach. You can be sure you're changing lives for the better, even some you don't realize at the time.

High school English memories: In 9th and 10th grade I remember reading real literature rather than kids' books for the first time. For 11th grade I had a teacher who every once in a while seemed to check out mentally right in front of our eyes - we figured it was acid or Vietnam flashbacks. He wrote a snide remark on my paper about quoting Cliff's Notes, when actually I was just a bit ahead of some of the other kids in the mechanics of writing, so I jumped up and started yelling at him while he was still handing out papers. He took me out in the hall and gently explained that, while he might have made a mistake, my behavior was inappropriate, which suddenly was so obvious to me that I wanted to crawl under a rock. Our 12th grade English class was taught alternately by our principal and the head of the department. The principal's tactics were to "engage" us in really transparent ways, like dramatic readings from Moby Dick and writing what he thought were relevant quotes from the Rolling Stones on the board. The department head, on the other hand, didn't try to be cool for us, he just let his love for what he was teaching shine through, which helped me realize the worth in it. He lectured like a college professor, assuming we were smart enought to understand what he was saying. And he actually pointed out the dirty bits in the Canterbury Tales, which was a real eye-opener.

There's probably no useful info in my screed, but it was fun remembering.

patrice said...

I too had LPD like nicole did (you'd think we went to high school together or something) - and while I totally got something from it, it was widely known that the class was easy and therefore was taken by alot of kids who would probably be candidates for your school. who therefore mocked alot of what we did - at first. it took a good solid half semester (it was only a semester course) for alot of the kids to actually find out that they could have fun with this class if they simply did the work and participated.

anyway, that's my only really positive english memory. most of my time in high school english was spent freaking out because I didn't do some sort of homework or worrying about a research paper that I didn't write. so much so that it's hard for me to remember what I learned. I wish that my teacher hadn't been such a hardass so that I could think back about it and not get a knot in my stomach.

sophie looks adorable!! and she's totally paying attention - so cute.

Katy said...

I am in awe at my sisters brilliance. :) I know this is kinda my standard comment around here but I really do think you're amazing. You truly are my hero and I love that you have such a passion for all things in your life. You can really tell you love your job and your family.

Rebecca said...

I had one REALLY dynamic English teacher in high school. She was young and so full of life. She was always jumping around (I think partly just her personality and partly an effort to keep everyone's attention) and shouting but not out of anger... rather out of love for her craft. She was a master. Hers was one of the only classes I always enjoyed going to!