“Rhetoric can save our country. We are becoming a tribalized society, with many refusing to consider others’ points of view and instead are out for their own interests. Our students are our future. Teach students to get meaning from everywhere.” – Jennifer Troy, College Board consultant
Last week I attended a four-day Advanced Placement Summer Institute hosted by the College Board, in order to teach me the basics behind being a brand-new AP Language and Composition teacher. I learned a lot, primarily reinforcing the fact that no one who is not a teacher has any earthly idea how much thought
in a perfect world goes into teaching.
I am overwhelmed by how many thing I ought to take into account for this new class: this year, my students will take the AP English test, any other AP tests (mostly AP US History), the state graduation test for several subjects, the SAT, and/or the ACT. Ideally, I should have them prepared for all of the above, but don’t worry, AP isn’t meant to the teach to the test. Instead my job is to train my students to be active readers and active learners, to create the intellectual ability to take information from many sources and formulate an argument. If I do my job right, they’ll be prepared and feel like they’ve just completed a college course.
I am just a little bit nervous. And overwhelmed. Only a little overwhelmed.
For those of you who took AP classes in high school but had no idea what teachers had to do to get there, my APSI looked something like this:
~ It was hosted in a conference center at the state university. I sat at a desk from 8 AM to 4:30 PM with half an hour for lunch. The classroom thermostat was set at about 62 degrees. By Thursday most students had completely lapsed into undergraduate mode, wearing sweat pants, slippers, and sweatshirts in an effort to keep warm. Coffee thermoses kept getting bigger; bathroom breaks became more frequent.
~ We were told to bring laptop computers, but you had to pay $3.99 a day for the WiFi network and your desk was twenty-five feet from the nearest outlet. Thus, we reverted to old-school, by-hand note-taking.
~ Our instructor was a veteran English teacher with 30+ years of classroom experience. She taught in wealthy private schools, low-performing inner-city schools, and everything in between. An excellent resource for a new teacher, as in her words, “I know what does work because I’ve tried what doesn’t work so many, many times.”
~ I was sent home with five newly-published textbooks that Bedford and Pearson sincerely hope I purchase for all 135 of my students. I also received a few door prize books; nothing makes a room full of English teachers pay attention like the prospect of free books.
~ I filled an entire pack of post-it notes with genius ideas shared by our instructor and the other 25 students in my session. Implementing all 18 classroom routines will be the tricky part.
~ On Monday morning, the word “rhetoric” had virtually no meaning for me. I was then informed that AP English Language and Composition is, primarily, a course about rhetoric. I spent the first morning of class in abject terror of being in charge of something I didn’t understand in the least. By Thursday, I could write an hour-long speech in defense of the art.
I’ve spent the weekend since institute cleaning my home office, so I can be where I am now: books and papers spread all around me on the floor, trying to figure out what I am going to do in 33 days when school starts.
The teacher for whom I’m taking over took time at the end of the school year to put together a binder of the Best of AP English; this week’s reflections started there, but I know I have to make some changes. For example, her students read To Kill a Mockingbird last year; my students will have done that as sophomores, so that book is nixed. Also, I haven’t read several of the books they did last year (Old Man and the Sea, Night) or haven’t read them since I was in junior English (The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter) or, on the rare occasions, the juniors read books that I just can’t stand (Huckleberry Finn, I’m looking at you). Our APSI instructor said that there are too many great works to teach to commit to teaching something about which I am not passionate. I know I was told that college teaches me how much I don’t know; it seems that education continues in the real world 🙂