Friday, September 11, 2009

One Down--Thirty-Nine to Go. . . .

The first week,  brief as it was, is over and the dust seems to be settling. I have an AP class problem that has become more clear to me: these students write fairly clear sentences with relatively few errors; and that mechanical edge, in addition to the fact that they are well-behaved, may be what earned them the B's in class, despite their fails on last year's AP test. These are the kids who are the welcome break from the kids who swing across the room, Tarzan yelling all the way, and the kids who text incessantly and the kids who backtalk and roll eyes and  generally protest every product of  a teacher's good intentions. That said, these kids' resistance to reading compels them to invent meaning instead of read carefully; and they settle for translation instead of analysis, repetitive reporting instead of the conscious shaping of an argument. An ed-biz professional would say that these second-rate "habits of mind" seem to have been rewarded. Fortunately, critical thinking is a teachable skill and experience dictates that once their eyes open to the workings of figurative language, the rest should follow.
Naturally, I warn all my students of the rigors ahead, and naturally, upon hearing my warnings and after my showing them what works and what doesn’t, several run to their counselors bubbling and blathering that they need a "better" teacher or a lower-level class. When the counselors tell me not to scare the students away, I have to shake my head. My goal is to have the kids read and write analytically, and I don’t think that settling for the bad habits they seem to have acquired is doing them a service. If my pushing hard is anathema to them, then I cannot promise I will not scare students. Learning is scary in the same way that the truth hurts: both demand action that we may or may not be ready to take. If they choose not to face the challenge, I cannot change that. 

I remember calling a parent last year after a girl left my honors class for a basic class so she could be with her friends (let’s just say they were girls with more social than academic interests). This girl was academically up to the challenge and should not have switched, but her mother said, “She needs a social life too.” Okay, I guess I can see that. . .
. . . Now that my classes are settling down and the kids’ needs have clarified my goals. I myself need to figure out how to keep my life more social (a daily Scrabble move in the endless tournament I am playing with my high-school pal might not cut it). I also need to figure out how to cut my workload but still give kids enough practice to move them ahead. Having 39 or 40 students in an English class (no longer the case in AP, but my 10th graders, Shakespeare, and Creative Writing students are sitting on the floor) is simply untenable. 

When all is said and done, I must say that I marvel at those few teachers, whose classes must also be overloaded in this the current climate, who leave school everyday at 3 pm sharp with only a cell-phone in their hands.  . . . Maybe I should talk strategies with them?

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