First Couple Weeks: Creating English Scholars

The first couple weeks of my teaching have been going very well. My three preps are so very different–it’s kind of amazing, and it makes every day a veritable potpourri of teaching variety. My writing lab class, which in content and student body is quickly becoming my best-loved hour of the day, is a creative, process-based elective for high schoolers. This is where I can create the curriculum of my dreams: a writing workshop where I can guide every step from inspiration to publication for my community of writers.  The seventh graders are a treat that is new to me–they still very young, confused, and playful, and an absolute breeze as far as classroom management goes. Everything is new to them. The seniors–low on motivation, high on sass, but smart as whips–are my special challenge and in some ways my other favorite. I am determined to be the teacher that, during this last, vital year, leaves the door open for Language Arts in the hearts and minds of these students as they enter the adult world.

With the seniors, I spent the first week centered completely around WHY we study literature in the first place. I know I certainly didn’t understand or even think about the reasons behind literary study as a high schooler. In fact, I avoided AP lit by taking a theater class instead. I just didn’t get it. And either did my current students. While there’s still a long way to go, I felt some glimmers this week, some hints that they are starting to think about the value of the written word, and that makes it all worth it.

My two best recommendations for “Why Literature” lessons:

1. Selections from Mario Vargas Llosa’s essay “The Premature Obituary of the Book: Why Literature?” This is, when approached from an open-minded point of view, a staggering argument for literature that students enjoy both debating and considering. It contains such gems as this, which made my literary geek heart swoon: Nothing teaches us better than literature to see, in ethnic and cultural differences, the richness of the human patrimony, and to prize those differences as a manifestation of humanity’s multi-faceted creativity. Reading good literature is an experience of pleasure, of course; but it is also an experience of learning what and how we are, in our human integrity and our human imperfection, with our actions, our dreams, and our ghosts, alone and in relationships that link us to others, in our public image and in the secret recesses of our consciousness.

2. I had my students, in groups of four, come up with at least ten reasons why someone might want to study literature. Then, I fused all the good reasons together and published it, giving each student a copy and posting it, LARGE SIZE, on the wall. As I explained to them, “If I came to teach every day just to get paid and go home, I’d be a poor teacher. Just the same, if you come to school each day just to pass and go home, you’ll be substandard students.  To be good at something, you need to find a reason behind it. Here are your reasons for literature. Dig deep and find one, or more, that work for you, and you might surprise yourself by the wealth that you find!”

Here’s our list… Is your reason on there? 🙂

THE POINT OF STUDYING LITERATURE

by English 12, Hours 3 and 6

1. To seek answers to unanswered questions.

2. To expand our imaginations.

3. To feel or express an emotion.

4. To reflect on the state of the world around us.

5. To expose ourselves to viewpoints outside our own.

6. To appreciate the artistry of great authors.

7. To learn passion.

8. To understand other cultures.

9. To improve our society.

10. To imitate the masters in our own writing.

11. To explore different value systems and philosophies.

12. To learn how to live or how not to live.

13. To stand out.

14. To approach important ideas.

15. To hear a good story.

16. To gain reading and critical thinking skills.

17. To think about something strange, deep, or interesting.

18. To learn about other historical periods.

19. To experience something we’ve never physically encountered.

20. To see ourselves reflected back to us, with both flaws and admiration.

21. For comfort or encouragement.

22. To be respected by others.

23. To expand vocabulary.

24. To escape into an alternate reality.

25. To read and write poetry.

26. To delve into the minds of greatness.

27. To teach others.

28. To maintain a set number of intellectuals in our society.

29. To learn different genres and styles of writing.

30. For inspiration.

31. To challenge ourselves.

32. To become more intelligent.

33. To learn about famous authors.

34. To learn about new or little-known authors.

35. To impress members of the opposite sex.

36. As part of a career.

37. To better visualize a thing, place, or idea.

38. Because it’s been studied for centuries.

39. To stay out of trouble.

40. To pass Ms. H’s class and graduate from high school.

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