Tag Archives: back to school

Back to School 2015

school photoI forgot to post yesterday for Slice of Life Tuesday. I was tired when I returned home from school and wound up taking a nap. While Monday was our first day of school, it was mostly taken up with orientation activities, so Tuesday was the first day we met with our students. We had shortened classes.

This year I am teaching American Studies in Literature and AP English Literature and Composition. American Lit is familiar territory. I have been teaching it for most of my career—and this will be my eighteenth year. It doesn’t seem that long in a lot of ways. AP Lit, on the other hand, is new for me, so I have been doing a lot of work to prepare for that course.

I began the year in my AP class with a chalk talk: “What are your goals for AP Lit this year?” on one poster, and “What challenges do you foresee in this class?” on the other. Students wrote responses silently for ten minutes, stepped back to read what others wrote, and added comments or agreed with peers’ comments by starring, checking or adding some other mark. They liked it, and they discovered they really have similar hopes and fears. I am going to like this class very much. They put me on the spot right away and asked me what my goals are for the class. And as it turns out, we have pretty much the same goals: 1) I want students who are taking the AP exam to go into the test feeling like they are well prepared, 2) I want students to feel well prepared for their college English classes, and 3) I want to have fun while we learn. Today in AP, we examined the rubric. I was proud of them for pointing out its vagueness (I think it could be clearer in the top end as well), and we tried our hand at reading a student’s AP timed writing and determining 1) what prompt the student was attempting to answer, 2) writing the prompt in our own words, 3) evaluating the essay (two students nailed the exact grade the student received, and the rest lowballed the student, which gives me hope that if anything, they will be harsher graders (which is potentially better than grading too high), and 4) talking about thesis statements. They are great, engaged class.

My American Lit students began the year with some discussion of essential questions:

  • What is the American Dream?
  • Is the American Dream accessible to all? Why/why not?
  • What makes a person American?
  • How is America different from/similar to other countries?
  • Why do people come to America to live?

I asked students to take sticky notes and pick at least two questions to reflect on and write answers to. Then they put one of the sticky notes on chart paper and made connections between notes: two ideas were similar, two ideas were opposites, two ideas were connected in some other way. Then I asked them to take another sticky note and put it on the appropriate chart and connect a negative with a positive or make a connection between a note and something they heard in the news. It won’t really surprise most folks (and didn’t surprise me) to learn they didn’t follow the news much, though one student commented he’d heard candidates talking about “anchor babies.” We talked about what that was. I told the students we would put the charts away and take them out at the end of the year and look at them again. We would reflect on what we had learned. Are our answers the same? Are they nuanced in some way? What do we know now that we didn’t know in the beginning?

I think these classes will be interesting in particular because I have many international students. I have students from China, Vietnam, Russia, Sweden, Thailand, Nigeria, and South Korea, as well as students from Massachusetts and the rest of New England. It looks like a really diverse group, and I think they will bring some very interesting perspectives to our discussions about American literature. Of course, they are likely to need support as non-native speakers of English. I always think my international students are brave for traveling so far away to study in a second (or perhaps third or fourth) language. I wouldn’t have been able to do that when I was in high school.

We are plunging into the deep end of the pool without water wings tomorrow as we have a Socratic seminar on Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus.” I like to frame the year with this poem because I like students to ask questions about why this poem is on the Statue of Liberty and whether we believe the idea expressed in the poem (or, indeed, if we ever have believed it). I was proud that one of my former students who is in my class again approached me to check because he remembers our 70-minute Socratic seminars from last year, and he was concerned we weren’t ready as a class to do that yet. He’s right, so I was able to reassure him by letting him know they will have time to prepare for their seminar in class (half the class, in fact), and the seminar would likely be more like 30 minutes. The reason I was glad he approached me is that he 1) advocated for himself, but really 2) advocated for his peers and showed concern for them.

I have written in the past about how I reworked my curriculum so it’s thematic, and it worked well last year. I did the same opening activity last year, and you should have seen my students’ faces when I pulled out their chart paper from the beginning of the year, and they could actually see how their understanding and thinking about the questions had evolved, even if they still basically agreed with the sentiments expressed—they had evidence to back up those sentiments by the end of the year. I am hoping this year’s class walks away feeling the same way: proud of how much they had learned.

My advisory students are now seniors, and I have been with some of them all four years of high school. They are a great group—very conscientious and hardworking. I am looking forward to seeing them through their last year as they work through the college application process and prepare senior projects. I really look forward to seeing them walk across the stage at graduation at the end of the year. I am so excited to see what they will do.

I had a great start to the year. Last year was my best teaching year yet, and I’m hoping to top that one, even. I am really in a happy place right now.

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Back to School

Last Monday was our first day back to school with students. Generally the first day is kind of a toss up because our classes are only about fifteen minutes long. I have very good classes and am teaching all the same things as last year: 9th grade Grammar, Comp., and Lit., 11th grade British Lit. and Comp., and an elective called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

At this point, my British Lit. and 9th grade classes are discussing summer reading. We are not spending too long on that so that we can get into the curriculum proper. The 9th graders are going to create a Facebook page for the main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Christopher Boone. The Hero class is learning about Joseph Campbell and the monomyth so they can begin applying that knowledge to the books and films we will study.

I have good classes, and we are off to a good start. We implemented homeroom for the first time since I’ve been working at my school, and I think it’s working out well. I have seniors in my homeroom. We told silly kids’ jokes in homeroom the other day. We also changed our schedule to an A-B-C rotating schedule (A-days are blocks 1-6, B-days are blocs 7-9 and 1-3, and C-days are blocks 4-9). It is an adjustment. We no longer have any double-blocks, but all our classes meet for an hour. It nice because I am not having to roll lessons over to the next day as often, but between the first day and Field Day on Friday, I didn’t feel like we hit the ground running. But that’s OK. We will this week.

I am back in my old classroom after a year in a larger one, and I am actually happy to have the smaller one back. I will take some photos soon. I haven’t had a chance yet. It’s been tough getting back into the school schedule. My body is protesting about it. I have already developed a stuffy nose and I’m praying it won’t turn into a sinus infection. I just feel so busy.

My classes at Virginia Tech start back next week, and I will be taking 6 hours (4 classes): Digital Video, Software Evaluation, Graphic Design for Electronic Presentations, and Telecommunications and Distance Learning. If I am able to get my last 3 hours this summer, I can finish my degree this school year. I will have to take 6 hours again next semester. I am starting to wonder when I will hear again about my portfolio. No one’s said much of anything about it since I was asked to create the portfolio shell early last year.

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