No student objective today. Because we really didn’t accomplish anything. First day of second semester isn’t NEARLY as fun as the first day of school…
We are starting our second semester with a poetry unit, and I am terrified – I really don’t know anything at all about poetry. I don’t have tomorrow planned. I’m still grading final exams that must be entered for report cards by tomorrow. Joking with one of the other English teachers today, we seriously discussed the possibility of just giving everyone 100s and moving on. I’m halfway through my pot of coffee, and when I finish it, I’ll see where I’m at. Jokes on me for giving a multi-part final that would take forever to grade. I feel like a sucker pretty regularly as a first year teacher, and it is entirely my fault.
Today everyone got a seating chart, and I am thrilled. They’re not, of course; one boy second period begged me for one more chance to sit next to his friend, and I retorted, “You had your one chance. It was called first semester.” Another boy added, “Man, she really thought this through.” One of my afternoon classes decided to take the seating chart into their own hands and started swapping seats – just a few here and there, like I wouldn’t notice, but I did – I spent a lot of time thinking through places. After the bell rang, I surveyed their work and announced, “You guys suck at seating arrangements.” To which a boy to my left immediately and forcefully said, “You suck.”
The room went silent. My eyes flashed. This kid turned bright red. He is usually one to push the envelope, but I don’t think he meant it this time – I think it was an automatic 16-year-old boy reaction to hearing the phrase “You suck.” Were I a 16-year-old boy, I believe my response to his “You suck” would most like start with, “Your mom…” I don’t think this young man meant to tell his teacher I sucked, and certainly not so loudly. It brought me back to earth and reminded me that these are just kids trying to fit in, and not as intentionally moronic as I sometimes think they are.
My lesson plans today consisted of a monologue from my soapbox and twenty minutes of classroom clips from “Dead Poets’ Society” to introduce poetry. My soapbox monologue basically introduced the few new classroom routines and my desire to include sustained silent reading into our semester.
My plan is for them to pick out their own books (no manga or magazines, but pretty much everything else goes) and to read every Friday for half the period. I lectured them on the importance of reading to academic and professional success. I told them that every interview I’ve ever had, from college admissions to camp counselor to student janitor to teaching, included the question, “What was the last book you read?” If they answer, “We read To Kill a Mockingbird in sophomore English,” they won’t get the job. Not having a ready answer demonstrates that a) the applicant is not curious and willing to learn, as reading shows a willingness for both; b) has no initiative, as personal reading requires; or c) the applicant can’t finish something he or she starts. None of those are qualities employers look for. Since so many of my students don’t plan on going to college, at least not right away, I’m trying to find a different tact for convincing them of the importance of reading. I referenced the reading poster I had included on their final exam.
My other line asks students if they want to be the same person ten years from now: the three things that change us the most are the people we meet, the places we go, and the books we read. Since many of my students won’t leave the small town after graduation, they have limited their first two. Their only chance therefore of being a smarter, more well-rounded person at 26 than at 16 is the books they read – through them they can meet new people and travel to new places. However, I always have some smartass (they’re 16 – most of them can only be described as such; apologies to anyone offended) who answers my question, “Yeah, I like who I am now. I hope I’m the same person in ten years.” To which I ask, “If you were 26, would you want to marry someone with the mind of a 16-year-old?” Most of them agree that no, they’d rather marry someone more mature than 16. I did have one boy tell me his life plan was to live at home with his parents forever, because they told him, “They’d be there as long as he needed them.” I don’t think they quite meant that to mean, “Sit on your duff forever, we’ll feed your lazy butt.”
Back to grading! It’s interesting…I think I procrastinate more as a teacher than I ever did as a student, and in college, that’s saying something.