Monday, February 21, 2011

Classroom Flash

I love my job. Really. Almost every day when I drive to school, I’m singing. When I climb out of my car and walk inside, I’m singing. When I unlock my door, greet the early birds and turn on my lights, I’m singing. When I walk through the halls, wading among a mob of teenagers, I’m singing.

Not out loud, of course. Then they’d KNOW I’m a bit crazy.

There really are few things better than to love what you do with your professional life. That is my lot and I know that I’m fortunate.

I’ve been at it since 1973, with two short breaks for childbirth. Although I hold a license to teach whatever they call ‘secondary school,’ I’m mostly in the classroom with 17-year-olds. And for those of you who have some teenagers around the house, you might wonder how a teacher can put up with them.

As I always tell friends who actually ask, my students are good for me. They understand that when they are NOT good, they get to go and chat with someone down the hall who is paid to handle them when they are less than grand. And, I can attest, that when teenagers are at their best, they are bright and funny. I rarely go a day without laughing out loud. I rarely go a week without learning something new from them.

When I took time off in 2009, I thought that I might not go back. And, although teaching consumes much of my conscious attention and my subconscious awareness, I was surprised at how quickly that school house and its denizens faded from the front burner.

For all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was the leading of God, I went back to my classroom in January 2010. Since then, I’m with my third set of 150 kids, students that have burrowed into my heart.

Teaching isn’t for everybody but I can attest that if you’re suited for it, it’s a fantastic career path. Notwithstanding all the ruckus these days in state legislatures, most of my peers find that what we do everyday gives us satisfaction beyond explanation.

And the largest source of that comes from our students. So let me say, that I love them. Really, I do.

In that context, here’s why my job is challenging and frustrating.

Right now, I have two classes of American Literature, my favorite subject. It is, by the way, not a given that teachers will get to teach those subjects in which they have the most proficiency. But it is my privilege and joy to spend my day infusing their heads with what I know.

It’s an arm wrestle, sometimes, getting them to work. By the time they come to me, many high school students have honed skills that let them short cut and short circuit the lesson of the day. I try to stay ahead of them and on my toes so that they’ll figure it out that the work must get done. By them.

So, in these classes with some of the brightest kids in the school, I began the semester by discussing how they should write when they write about literature.

“When you write about a work of literature, you always include the name of the work and the name of the author in your answer, “ I said. In fact, I said, “Always always always.” And, not only did I SAY it. I wrote it on the overhead projector. I handed them a paper on which the same information was written. On that paper, ‘ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS’ was in capital letters, bolded, plus I had hand-written in an arrow, pointing at those three dark words.

You, who may not be in a literature class right now, might ask, “Really? Always?” And we could chat about it. I’m sure that there are occasions where this information would not be necessary. But it’s never wrong to include it and many times, it’s wrong NOT to include it.

So for my juniors, it’s ALWAYS. In fact, it’s ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS.

The very next day, they were to write a short answer in response to a short story that most of them had read. Most of them were eager to write about this story. Most had opinions that they wanted to express. So, how many of them included the name of the author and the title of the story?

30 out of 60. Really? Really. Why? Who cares. It was obvious that quite a few had not registered the very important instruction.

So, I gave them 25/50 points. Ouch. An F. Sometimes pain is the only thing that works.
There was a deep rumble as I passed back the quizzes. “50%?” “Wow, that’s harsh.” “I can’t believe it.” And “Well, that’s ONE mistake you only make once.”

Were that this were true. Within a week, they got another chance to write about literature. This time, 20 of 60 students left out the author and title of work. This time, it was 10/20 points and a trip to the teacher’s desk.

Just in case. Perhaps they were hard of hearing? Vision impaired? Asleep? No no and no. They ‘forgot.’ But this time, the burn should do it, yes?

Well, not yet. The third incidence cut it down to 7 of 60. ANOTHER trip to the teacher’s desk and a one-on-one tutoring session. At this point, each nodded that he/she understood.

We shall see. They have an essay due next week.

Singing here.


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  2. Lynne!

    What a gift from God you are to these students. Learning to comprehend and strictly follow directions presents one of life's most valuable lessons.

    As Dr. Josephine G. Rickard, chair of the English Department at Houghton College when I was there -- a lifetime ago -- used to insist: "Sources, Mr. Wilson! Sources!"

    Yes, sources!