Back to School for American Literature

img_0125Back to School
The students returned this day. I was summoned a week ago to substitute for 12 weeks to teach several courses in high school Honors American Literature, AP English Language, and writing instruction. Although the home painting projects will be delayed, I’m thrilled to be back at my former school and recognized some students I worked with a few years ago on another long-term substituting assignment. It gives a special feeling to see them again and note how they’ve grown.

The chance to immerse in classic writings from some literary greats is exciting. I don’t recall, probably because it was so long ago if I had truly engaged with some of them before. Yet, others, like Edgar Allen Poe, were certainly on my syllabus when I was a student. Somehow, although I do not deny there is value in exploring these works with students at this point in the journey of their lives, I expect that I will relish the craft of writing more as a mature reader.

Returning back to school also implies adapting to a new school environment. My classroom is in the new school annex and has student desks which form collaborative clusters rather nicely. Granted, my students are mostly upperclassmen, but I never had desks that welcome such creative methods, and research bears out that the classroom design lends much to the learning process. This, I reminded myself as I balanced on a student chair to reach the upper limits of the classroom bulletin board while struggling to not crinkle the heck out of the large roll of colorful paper I was stapling to secure.

To celebrate our first half day, I utilized murder mysteries whereby student groups received thirty clues and had to decipher the identity of the murderer, time, place, weapon, and motive. Through this brief challenge, I was able to discern who were the leaders, how comfortable some students were, and which ones seemed more reserved.

Then I noted among each section, that only in the single average-leveled course there was a decidedly unmotivated, learned helplessness attitude among the group, and some were quite proficient to use their voices in lieu of their grey matter to sabotage the industrious brainwork I’d hoped to ignite. Therein lies the challenge for me! I will have to delicately work to nudge this group toward achievement with small successes that will build trust and hopefully yield the satisfaction of accomplishment. As this is a pattern I have seen in a tracked curriculum, I know how to override this; the solution is to meet the students where they are at. For if you don’t have your students’ trust and confidence, they will hesitate to risk not being “cool” in the presence of their peers.

Well, back to writing syllabi and detailed lesson plans for the week ahead on a Friday night because I’m juggling other work projects which gives me no days off, except for Eid al-Adha into November. Happy reading!