Did the alluring alliteration of the title pull you in? Please refrain from judging any teacher – especially me on a Thursday night between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At the end of first block today, I told my students to have a good Monday and didn’t think anything of it until I overheard a student say to her friend, “Yep – she’s losing it.” Then a student asked if he could pay his honor society dues in Euros and this didn’t even sound strange to me. I’m hanging on for dear life for the next couple of weeks. Okay – enough anecdotes and on with my post about English education which I try to spare you from and only write about on AP Lit help, but why should they have all of the fun?
The week before Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of going to St. Louis for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention. I cannot tell you how excited I get about this annual meeting with over 6,000 English teachers (watch your grammar); it’s literally a Disney World for English teachers. I saw friends from across the nation whom I love, met authors, and got free books; I LOVE FREE BOOKS. This year I was able to teach three sessions and show people how we do things in Coweta County; I love to show off my students and what is happening in my classroom. I also attended sessions and brought back new ideas; my thinking was definitely stretched (think of wearing jeans to Thanksgiving dinner – this is how my mind felt at the end of NCTE). As a way of helping me process and reflect, I wanted to share some trends I see occurring in English education (or maybe education in general).
Student choice is so important in education and specifically in reading. I loved hearing several people including prominent authors and teachers talk about how they hated school. HATED. But then they found that book – the one where a character was like them and suddenly they were no longer alone but rather swept into a world of fiction and being understood. We MUST be committed to getting the right books into the hands of students. In addition, whole class novels cannot be taught to death but rather presented in a way for students to build reading skills, discover meaning on their own, and be a platform for rich classroom discussion and learning. I will say it over and over: we are not teaching a text. We are teaching students how to read and make meaning of texts.
Holistic Grammar Instruction –
Grammar workbooks are a thing of the past. Students best learn grammar through writing and reading not the identification of parts of a sentence without application. Many classrooms including mine have students keep a notebook to write and respond to literature daily. This – along with mini-lessons – are where students can experiment with punctuation, syntax, and learn grammar. Giving students opportunities to write daily is key to learning how to write properly.
More diversity in Reading –
Today’s classroom should extend beyond the canon. I’m amazed that I even have to write this because it seems so obvious yet so many teachers continue to only teach the “pillars” of literature and do not include modern and diverse voices. The problem for me is not a lack of desire to teach different works but rather keeping up with the multitude of modern voices; this is why when I see you I will ask what you have been reading. This is where I will make a plug for my classroom library – if you have books (middle school level and up) sitting in your home, give them to a teacher (me) so students have access to books. Don’t you have a school library, you ask. Yes, but think of a classroom library like the cases at the front of the Cheesecake Factory tempting those who walk through the door; having books in my classroom tempts students to pick up a book anytime and browse which is far less fattening than eating cheesecake.
Advocating for Students –
Most people who enter the teaching profession did so because they want to spend their life investing in the next generation, but other people and politics somehow get in the way and often cloud the minds of teachers with the best interest of students pushed to the back burner. I love being around teachers and hearing teacher leaders speak about their commitment to doing what’s right for students. I see a grassroots movement of teachers saying “Enough is enough with the ___________________” (fill in the blank for whatever is not in the best interest of students). And before you’re quick to judge teachers, sometimes speaking up for students alienates us from colleagues and people in our district. I feel it when I want to write a blog about __________________________ (fill in the blank of however a student has been wronged by the system or a teacher), but if politicians and whoever makes the “rules” in education don’t do what’s right, teachers must be brave and speak up.
NO TEACHING TO THE TEST – (Yes – I realize that all caps means I’m shouting)
No matter what pressure we are facing, we must not teach to the test. We are reading and writing teachers, not test teachers. Standardized testing may not be going away but more and more teachers are refusing to teach to the test. If we are teaching students how to read and write, the test will take care of itself. Forever and ever amen.
Rigor does not Mean More Work –
More and more teachers are moving away from homework. The trend in English ed seems to be if there’s homework, it will be reading. This is true for my classes – even at the AP level. I have them for 90 minutes a day (not all teachers have this luxury), and if we make good use of our time, they don’t need to do a lot of homework. Sometimes they will have reading; on occasion, they may have some written work like essay revision or a long-term project. What I mainly want my students to do at night is read for enjoyment, have family dinner, and get some rest.
There’s so much more I could talk about (just ask the hubs who has gotten the full rundown on NCTE) but will stop here. I will leave you with a final thought – teachers care about your students and their education so be encouraged about the future of education.