Week in Reflection: March 31-April 4, 2008

This week was a really good week for me, personally, which I think translates often into good teaching.

One of my ninth grade classes is completely done with The Catcher in the Rye, and the other is still in the discussion part of studying the novel. The discussions have been good. Students always seem to enjoy this book. One of my students who didn’t like it actually asked me if there was something he was missing, as all of his classmates seemed to like it, and he expected to like it. I confided that I didn’t like it either in high school, but I loved it years later when I read it again. When I was in high school, I had trouble getting past the part when Holden hires Sunny, the teenage prostitute. Even though they do not, shall we say, complete the transaction, and Holden winds up getting beaten up by her pimp, I found the notion that he would even hire a prostitute distasteful. I just didn’t like Holden. Years later, with more experiences and perhaps more empathy, I viewed Holden entirely differently. I think it helped my student to hear that he is perfectly fine, thank you very much, if he doesn’t like the novel. On the other hand, one of his classmates read the novel four times before it was due. I am in a quandary about this student, too, because this student did not perform well on my reading quiz, which should have been a breeze after reading the novel four times. I still can’t figure out how that happened, but it makes me feel rotten. Talk about a motivation-killer.

I am teaching grammar, specifically phrases and clauses. I have some problems with the efficacy of this required part of my curriculum.

I had interesting conversations with a few senior students this week. They are presenting their Flat World Willy handbooks on Monday. The conversations we had centered around the idea that a few of the students recognize that I (and their other teachers) are trying to put together good learning experiences that are relevant to their lives, and I think they like the handbook assignment. But they are also frustrated by working with peers whose minds are already checked out. I have heard more than once, “I didn’t want to come to school, but I thought about you, Mrs. Huff, and how mad it makes you when we skip class.” I suppose I should be grateful that the students have empathy for my feelings after planning and being disappointed, but I wish they came to school because they wanted to learn. Their course loads have been pared down. They are doing internships in the afternoons. Their minds are on the colleges they will shortly be attending. I can empathize with them. I remember that feeling. Heck, I got accepted to grad school this week, and I was elated. Even though I am taking courses online, registering for my Virginia Tech personal identity so I could login and use all the resources available to me as a student made it feel very real — I feel like I am going back to school, and I am excited. But my students haven’t graduated yet, which is an important step to attending college, and I don’t want them to check out when have such a small amount of time together.

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6 thoughts on “Week in Reflection: March 31-April 4, 2008

  1. Dana,

    Do you use the video clip from Six Degrees of Separation starring Will Smith in which he talks about The Catcher in the Rye?

  2. I have a very effective way of teaching phrases and clauses with my juniors. I love teaching grammar to juniors as they are ready to discover the rules themselves instead of the prescribed method of me telling them and them applying the rules. Let me know if you want more info about how I do it with them.

  3. Funny – I hated Catcher, too, when I read it as a high school student, then grew to love it when I taught it years later. I think you hit the nail on the head about why, when you reference the empathy you gained with time. When I was in high school, as a high-achieving girl who loved school and had a wonderful family, I thought he was nothing but a self-indulgent whiner. As I matured, I saw that not everyone had the same experiences and good fortune that I did – and I also experienced some disillusionment of my own. Then, I "got" Holden. Many of our teens get him because of their own lives or thoughts – and when we can help someone who doesn't naturally "get" him to develop an appreciation for him – that's just another form of empathy, and is to be applauded. Kudos to you!

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