Thursday, August 09, 2007
Those who can't teach, suck
One of my favorite moments in teaching happens when the kids discover something you've never thought about or explain something in a new way. Like the time an otherwise uninterested student who failed every English class ever suddenly perked up long enough to describe Juliet as "a dime," meaning she's a perfect ten.
Today as the class was reading and analyzing Emily Dickinson poems I asked what her style was and what were her major themes. We talked about her obsession with death and her tendency to be alone and proud of it.
"She's emo," one of my kids said.
Yes. Perfect. Emily Dickinson is emo. I was so pleased the whole rest of the class period. I told them they could write a paper comparing Emily Dickinson poems to Dashboard Confessional lyrics.
That's when lightbulbs start blinking on around the room, when you make connections to things the kids can relate to. Emily Dickinson is just like the emo kids. Hamlet is a typical boy, telling a girl he loves her to get her into bed then ordering her to get to a nunnery. The bastard.
But there are teachers at this school who will never figure it out. They continue to insist that even if all the students in the room write terrible papers it's because they're terrible students.
I got a set of papers recently that were supposed to be well-researched analyses of various American poets. Instead I got a bunch of reasonably well-written biographies.
So clearly I've been doing something wrong. If they don't understand what I'm trying to tell them then I have to tell them differently. So I scrapped my plans and started over, which may take some extra time but I'd rather make sure the kids are learning than make sure I've hit every stop on the list of California standards without them understanding any of it.
I almost punched another teacher the other day as he asserted that his kids can't write opinion papers because they're too stupid to understand the issues and they don't care about anything except their Ipods. Another teacher recently asserted at a meeting that none of her kids are college-bound, so why do we bother teaching them to write essays?
I don't know how those teachers have kids so vastly different from mine. My kids are reading Hamlet in the original Shakespearean language, and for the most part they get it.
I'm not a perfect teacher. I go on tangents, I let the kids play around a little too much, and I'm completely disorganized. But I would never, ever assume they couldn't learn. If they come into my room with weak writing skills it's my job to make them better. If they don't want to put in the effort that's not my problem, but as long as they're willing to learn I must teach them. I want to teach them. This school is like a challenge every day.
Your mission as a teacher: figure out how to get kids who don't do homework and have a weak background in written English to understand complex literary concepts.
They don't come into the room knowing everything. They honestly come in with major gaps in their education. But that's what makes my job fun. I get to puzzle out how to reach them and keep them interested at the same time, and in the process I learn a lot about them and their culture, and sometimes a few new things about the literature I teach.
All in all it's not a bad job. I wish the people who hate it would go away.