This year I had the privilege of teaching 80 seniors; however, there were 81 students in my class this year because I learn every year alongside my students. Here are my main takeaways from the year:
Rigor and fun can go hand-in-hand – My classroom tends to be marked with laughter, but this class took having fun to the next level. Laughter is often the result of student silliness, but the Class of 2016, granted they had their fair share of silliness, also had the unique ability to mix fun with work. In my AP classes in particular, we work hard, but this class managed to seamlessly move in and out of fun and hard work knowing the boundaries of productive and healthy fun and unproductive silliness. These students reminded me that learning and hard work can still be fun.
Choice Reading is important – Traditionally, teachers have students read the same work at the same time in spite of the mountains of research supporting students improve reading skills by having the ability to read books of their choice. Because of my age and the way I learned in school, I have been assigning novels for whole-class reading and will continue to do this. However, I have been experimenting with allowing students to choose novels, short stories, and poems for independent reading and am seeing the benefits of this. Students read more enthusiastically, have more to offer in class discussions, and are able to recommend novels to each other. Instead of me being in control of the content, students now see themselves as co-owners of the classroom and have a voice in their learning. Sometimes teachers are intimidated by giving up control in the classroom, but seeing students choose novels and dive into them enthusiastically makes this teacher’s heart happy.
Practice yields results – Each year I give a student survey in order to adjust instruction for the next group. Almost every student shared that they improved as writers in this year’s class due to the fact that we wrote so much. Now let me assure you that during the year there were moans and groans on Writing Wednesday, but in May students could celebrate their progress in writing and felt a sense of accomplishment. I grade A LOT but have adopted Kelly Gallagher’s philosophy that students should be writing more than the teacher can grade. If the teacher can grade all of the writing; students are not writing enough to improve. So practice, practice, practice reading and writing, and you will get better.
Literacy is alive and well in the next generation – Granted most students who take AP Literature like to read (even though every year there are some who are surprised at the amount of reading in the class), but this group devours books. When I shared an excerpt from The Art of Racing in the Rain while discussing point of view, students asked if they could go check out the book from the library at the end of class (yes – some still know what a library is), and the book made its rounds through the class. When I told them that I had participated in a Twitter chat with Hillary Jordan, students went to the library again to check out Mudbound, and one even stayed up all night reading it. These kids passionately debate over which Harry Potter book is the best and spent the year sharing books with each other and me. I believe this is because many were raised in reading families, so on those nights that you’re tired or wondering if reading to your small children makes a difference, it does! Also, ask a student for recommendations and read what they suggest; I try to read every book recommended to me by students and have learned so much from them.
Classroom teachers matter – For the past few years I have been encouraged to move into administration and have struggled with the decision. This year’s students, however, have helped me realize that at least for now, my place is in the classroom. I am saddened that we are in a system where the only way for good teachers to promote up is to leave the classroom. Many states outside of Georgia let teachers split time between the classroom and teaching teachers or curriculum administrative duties but not here. So I will not promote up but will stay with the students believing that this fulfills a calling on my life. Thank you to this group who helped me realize this.
Thank you, Class of 2016, for teaching me some valuable life lessons! Best of luck to you!