One word to describe this week? Insanity! So this week I broke two of the three (nearly all three) cardinal rules of subject matter in teaching. One of them went well. The other… not so much. They say the big three things not to bring up in class unless you prepare the class for it beforehand and ready their mindset and set the rules of discussion are the following: politics, religion, and abortion. Let’s go through my week now, shall we (It’s a long one)?
I really don’t remember much from Monday, honestly. I couldn’t even remember Monday when it was Tuesday. Most of the regular English 3 classes took a vocabulary quiz over the vocab they’ve been copying down at the start of class for the past three or so weeks. That took up pretty much the entire class. In creative writing, though, things were really fun. Before I did anything, I finished reading my short story I had written for them, as not all of them had finished it. They thought it was awesome. So anyway, after that I discussed setting and symbolism with them and how both are important to a short story. To further help this concept, I had them read “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, which is all about setting and symbolism. I had them read it in the same way I had them read “The Nose” before, which was “When the spirit moves you” (when everybody can only read a paragraph at a time). However, because the story is pretty much nothing but straight dialogue, they had a lot of fun with it. People were trying to read at the same time and doing funny voices, and we were laughing almost the entire time. However, for anybody who knows the story also knows what it’s about. The whole story is about a woman deciding whether or not to have an abortion. However, the subject went over very well with the class as I was able to show them the symbolism that helped to point this out and connect it all to the story to keep their focus.
Tuesday I started something new with the regular English 3 classes. They all began their new set of vocab words on this day, but instead of me reading out the word, definition, link word, and example sentences, I explained to them the new rules. Everyday, I will choose a new ‘power person’ who will do what I had been doing before. They’ll go up to the laptop (getting them working with the technology, too) and read off everything for the rest of the class. For two of the classes I didn’t even have to pick anybody. I had immediate volunteers. So this is working pretty well. They also began splitting up into workshop groups on this day. A couple weeks back they had taken a pre-test to let us know what they know in this specific unit. The areas each class most missed were the ones we would go over together as a class. However, then each student had specific areas of concentration and a different work packet for each section. The classes were then split up into groups based on these individual sections and they could work together in these groups to basically teach themselves the information. My mentor teacher and I would basically just walk around and act as facilitators. My supervisor also came for her second visit on this day (this time for fifth period), too, and had really good comments for me, as well. Again, almost all were positive; the one negative was that it took a bit long to explain how the workshops were going to work, but even my mentor teacher was taking a good length of time to explain it (in order to be ‘nauseatingly clear’ in her instructions so they would all know exactly what to do), so I wasn’t really upset by that or anything.
And that third period class is like the heavenly class. There was this one group that worked so amazingly well together it was like something from another universe. They were working together and at one point this one girl was like “No, that can’t be an object… it’s acting as a modifier,” etc. She was just using all this technical English jargon or whatnot, showing that she really grasped the material. And then when one of the guys in the group wasn’t grasping the material, the other three in the group were like “If you’re having trouble, just ask us and we’ll work with you. That’s what we’re here for.” My mentor teacher and I just about melted with happiness. But not just for that group, either. Practically every group around the room didn’t need our help and were working like a dream, leaving the two of us just to walk around bored. It was great.
Creative writing wasn’t anything special. I handed out an information sheet I created to help them focus their ideas for their short stories. I went over it with them (as it brought up information I hadn’t yet gone over with them, such as point of view and first/second/third person).
Wednesday was an insane day. Grades for the three-week progress report were due, so everybody was going crazy trying to get everything in. The regular classes did well enough today, continuing their workshop groups. One of the vice principals (and I’m assuming she’s over the English department, as well) came in during third period and gave glowing reviews for what was going on. Like the previous day, they really were brilliant. There was also a funny moment in fifth period when this one guy heard his name mentioned somewhere in the classroom. He was like “What? Who said my name? What are y’all sayin about me?” And I responded (paraphrasing here, because I used his name) “They’re sayin you’re awesome.” He beamed and was like “Oh, alright.” So I continued with “Yeah, you’re seriously in the top 20 most awesome people in this class.” And he was like “Yeah I am!” Then about two seconds later, both him and the guy in front of him responded. “Wait, there’s barely 20 people in this class!” And we all laughed.
Anyway, on to more important things. So in creative writing, things got interesting. I went over a grading rubric with the class that I had made for their short stories. I used the information I had gathered from the anticipatory set I had done a couple weeks ago when I asked them what they believed made a good short story and a good main character. A lot of people said the same things (like ‘complex characters’ and ‘imagery’ for short stories, as well as things like ‘interesting backgrounds’ and ‘realism’ for characters, so a lot of those things went into making the rubric). But while I was explaining this, I asked some question, and this one girl said something (she’s crazy and gets on my nerves, my mentor’s nerves, and pretty much everybody’s nerves… not to mention scares a lot of people. She makes crazy death threats and tells everybody that she’s the best novelist/writer/author/whatever that has ever walked the earth, including famous and established writers. Like, seriously, she’s better than anybody and anything, no matter what, and she’s the most unique, special, whatever person ever, especially in her writing, and nobody can do what she can. I have to vent about this girl practically everyday, but that’s getting a bit off topic. Anyway…). I thought she was talking to me, so I responded. But she told me “I wasn’t talking to you.” So then this other guy, a pretty cool and laid back guy who I’m pretty friendly with (and who I had made a ‘power person’ to help me calm down the class if it got out of hand) started going off on her. He was like “So then you’re talking while Mr. 'Last Name' is talking. That’s rude. That’s disrespectful. You should be quiet and listen to Mr. 'Last Name' when he’s trying to teach.” I could feel the death glare without even having to look. So crazy girl starts going off on the guy, saying stuff like “That’s enough! You don’t need to talk to me like that and tell me what to do,” etc. There was this huge, awkward silence over the class. And of course, my mentor teacher wasn’t in the room at the time (she often lets me have sixth period alone). Surprisingly, there were no death threats from the crazy girl or anything like that, but you could cut the tension with a knife. I had no idea what to do (my mentor teacher told me later after I told her what happened, though, so I’ll be more prepared next time). So I just kinda let it go and kept teaching (though I think that dissolved a bit of the tension, because I was like “So… anyway…” and everybody laughed).
I got back to the rubric, which also included other things I had taught, such as setting and symbolism. However, they were still having issues grasping symbolism. So they all wanted more help understanding that. I tried to give them some examples to help them out when one of the guys said “Give us an example from Harry Potter,” because a lot of the class are Harry Potter fans. Well, of course, I say the first thing that pops into my head, and it was probably the worst thing I could have said. It’s absolutely true, but it came out like a wrecking ball from left field. I said “Harry Potter himself is a symbol of Jesus.” The class went crazy. But then I couldn’t explain it any because there were people in the class who hadn’t finished the series and told me not to spoil anything, and this particular symbolism is most prevalent at the end of the final book. So I tried changing the subject to “Chronicles of Narnia.” But we were still on religion, and everything was going downhill fast. It was loud and out of hand. There was this one girl who was confused even more and getting upset (though the ironic part was that she wasn’t getting upset because of the religion, but because she couldn’t grasp the symbolism). So we all tried to change the subject to something else. But once we did, not even two minutes later, that same girl brought back up the religion thing again, causing everybody to sigh with frustration. But when we finally changed the subject for good, putting it behind us, it hadn’t even been another 5 minutes when another guy brought up politics. But I stopped him right there and told him “We just finished getting over religion, we’re not starting politics!” So that got stopped before it started.
Otherwise, that class went alright. I regained control of the class and nobody was upset or anything from the discussion, so all was well. I helped more with symbolism until everybody understood it, including the girl having trouble grasping it (she was trying to make it more complicated than necessary, so I told her to think simply, like water, fire, winter, spring, etc. After that, it finally snapped with her and she got it). And after that, everything was peachy keen, as they say.
Thursday was an overall good day. Nothing too out of line or anything from what I can recall. In fifth period, this real ghetto gangster-type guy fixed a stereo with a paper clip all MacGyver-style and then put on my mentor teacher’s spare heels and walked around, so that was a fun highlight.
In creative writing, because they were asking about symbolism, I had made up another form to give them to help with symbolism by giving them five different books and situations from each book and asking what that symbolism could mean. During this part of class, something great happened. So in front of the crazy girl sits this super nice, but kinda shy person that’s the kind of person that gets teased a lot and is hunched over, slightly mousy, etc. Anyway, so this girl is trying to throw out answers for symbolism on this one book, though she hadn’t read the book. Then crazy girl is like “You should just be quiet and stop now.” So I looked at her and was like “She can answer if she wants to.” So the crazy girl responded, “Let me rephrase. You ‘should’ stop answering, then.” And this was such a great moment. The one girl turned around to the crazy girl and was like “Well, if you would stop thinking you were better than everybody else and let me talk, maybe I’d say something right.” I got all wide-eyed with proud surprise, but didn’t say anything (though I wanted to), because she just got told. But then, of course, crazy girl responded with “I don’t ‘think’ I’m better than everybody else, I know I am.” So I told them both enough, and I got back to the lesson.
So anyway, I then modified an exercise slightly that I was going to have them do anyway, but did it to help them out more. I started out by going down each row and having everybody introduce their characters to the class (because as writers, they’d have to be comfortable sharing their stories). I told them to all write notes on their favorite ones that weren’t their own. Then, after all that was over, I split them into groups of four and they would pick another person’s character and start by writing a paragraph introducing that character in a setting of their choice (that made sense). Then they would pass their paper to the next person in the group and that person would have to continue the story in the second paragraph, but the second paragraph needed to at least have one example of symbolism. Then they would pass it on, and the third paragraph would need imagery, and then the forth would introduce conflict. So by the end of the first four paragraphs, they would have character, setting, symbolism, imagery, and conflict using a character not of their own imagination (to help with improvisational skills and imagination).
Again, it wasn’t that big of a day today. Everybody in the regular classes continued with workstation stuff if they had already finished all their homework (without having an ‘I’) and didn’t have to retake the vocab test for either not having made a passing grade the first time or having not even taken it the first time. And the amazing thing here was that everybody that retook the quiz passed it (and most of them made 100s or A’s. There were a few B’s and maybe only one or two C’s, but most did amazingly well). I also did some crazy white-boy, arm pump dancing for my classes randomly throughout the day. And this other cool guy in my fifth period class with this super deep voice (I’ve talked about this guy before in my blogging) helped to quiet the class by crying out something along the lines of “Yo, Mr. 'Last Name' is trying to talk, so stop being so disrespectful!” It was great.
In creative writing, they continued doing the same assignment from yesterday. They were having a lot of fun with it, though I don’t think everybody was doing it exactly right. But I just shrugged that off because it’s just an exercise, and I wasn’t taking it up anyway. But then in the middle of laughing and reading paragraphs of stories that had been written so far, I had a great moment with the crazy girl. So she’s complaining that she hates having to write/continue off somebody else’s writing, and also that she can’t come up with something symbolic based on what the other girl had written for the first paragraph. But the kicker was that it was for her own character, which she’s constantly highly praising and knows so well. So she’s griping and moaning about how she can’t come up with symbolism for her own character just because she didn’t write the first paragraph of the story, so I straight-up told her “You say you know how to do symbolism, and this is even your own character. You tell us you’re the greatest writer ever known to mankind, so you should be able to write this, then, huh?” And I dropped the paper on her desk and walked off. I heard all of them around her going like “Oh!” (as in ‘burn’) and the girl that sits in front of her was like “Yeah! That’s right!” Victory for me!
Otherwise, things went well. That’s pretty much the important stuff in my week. I know that’s a lot (and I’m probably leaving out a load), but like I said, I had a crazy week this week.