Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Welcome to the Suck

For those of you who hang on, visit regularly, or only check in once in a great while, I thought I would give you an update as to my teaching schedule for next year.  As most of you know I am  high school teacher, and I teach at a small high school in rural Nevada.  This year I have been teaching history and drama.  Well, next year I am being given an almost entirely different schedule.  I am going to be teaching two drama classes (we had 47 kids sign up for the class) and an eclectic set of English classes.

I will be once again teaching senior English.  I will also be teaching the 9-10 Honors English class, and the 11-12 Honors English class.  While part of me is flattered because it is the general consensus I have been rather successful teaching senior English, I am not looking forward to the sheer amount of work I can expect as a result of teaching these classes (3 regular senior English and the 2 honors sections).

I have a pretty good structure for the regular senior English class, and I am trying something entirely new for the honors sections.  Senior English is British lit in these parts, and while I have that down, I am taking it upon myself to re-create the honors English courses to try and instill academic rigor which has been lacking---even two years ago, when I taught it for the firs time.  What is of crtical importance is students be rid of the notion the honors class in this town is a free ride for the 'well-behaved' kids.  While that is an honorable goal to give well-behaved kids a class in which they can pursue their studies, an honors curriculum it does not make.

To that end, tomorrow I have the honor of informing the prospective honors students of what will be expected of them.  My 9-10 students they will be reading The Great Gatsby over the summer (complete with exam in the first week of class); reading three other novels within the first 9 weeks of class; writing four papers in each semester (2 literary analysis and 2 expository). Units in poetry and drama will follow, with a major independent research project to cap off the year.  My 11-12 students will be required to read The Odyssey over the summer (complete wit an exam in the first week of class), immediately read Beowulf in its entirety and embark upon a greatly expanded reading curriculum for British Lit, complete with a schedule of four longer papers throughout each semester.  Each class will also be required to complete weekly write-ups and class discussions on current issues.

* * *

What this means to you, and most of the writers I share the internets with is this:  You may, if it suits you, add my name to the list of high school English teachers you blame for sending high school students to college unprepared for the basics of the composition classes you teach.  I will be trying my best to teach them the basics of writing a decent paper, but I really have never liked my chances of being successful.  Oh, a few students learn and adapt their writing patterns to be in line with standards and expectations, but the vast majority fall under one of two categories---well, those who go to college.  Category One consists of students who already know enough to make a good pass at college writing and I feel helpless in my attempts to get them to be better writers.  Category Two consists of the students who need to learn how to be better writers but for whatever reason, lack the ability to adapt their writing, and I feel helpless in my attempts to get them to be better writers.

Yes, that's about it.  I have found the writers who are a joy to teach are the ones who already know how to write, and I can do very little for them.  The students who need the help are infinitely frustrating because I see in them the ability to write better, but they either choose to do nothing or simply cannot do anything to be better writers.

I know how frustrating it is for college instructors, as I see many of their/your complaints on blogs and Facebook, citing the stunning depths of ignorance students are seemingly willing to sink.  I know what it's like to waffle between being infuriated at the student because of this willingness and being infuriated at the teacher because part of you refuses to believe anyone would willingly be that ignorant.  I don't know what to say except to apologize in advance and offer myself as sacrifice to the writing gods.  Well, actually, I would like you to consider what actors students can be.  They have for years been honing their performance, and you should never underestimate their willingness to try and not be held accountable for something you require of them.

And of course this includes throwing their high school teachers under the bus to give the impression they have never heard of a thesis statement or plagiarism.

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