I'm pretty stressed right now at school, for a variety of reasons. My English 2 class - the one with the much more at-risk kids, the one with the high-stakes graduation requirement test at the end of the year, the one with the kids with the low level - is stressing me out because it's the first time anyone in our team has taught the course, and we're left inventing the wheel over and over again. I can barely keep up with all the work in that class alone. At this point, I'm doing a lot of faking it with the grading and probably will end up having to do some eyeballing to assess what grades the kids earned this last quarter.
I also hate the curriculum. My hesitation about the teaching the curriculum in a chronological way have come to fruition. We spent the first four months of the school year on Puritanism, Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and now Realism, and I'm just bored to tears by it all - so what? So we can teach a History course? No, not really, but several would argue that it's so we can teach the kids how American Literature developed. And I just don't care that much and certainly don't think the kids do. I want my kids to love literature, to see how it's an important tool for figuring out the world around them, for experiencing their own lives and those of others.
Give me an American Literature curriculum to teach, and I'd focus on ideas. What are some of the chief ideas of America? The idea of the American dream, perhaps (Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, and Raisin in the Sun). Maybe the idea of the individual place and importance in society (Walden, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Scarlet Letter, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Perhaps the idea of the immigrant experience (Dreaming in Cuban or The Joy Luck Club or maybe some non-fiction), or the experience of a racial minority (Native Son or The Known World or several others), or the experience of war (Crane, Hemingway). Perhaps the idea of the religious experience in America (the Puritans up to The Color Purple).
No, it wouldn't be all-inclusive, because you wouldn't get to half of that. But it also wouldn't pretend to be. And it would be about ideas, which I just think are so much more interesting than chronology and style or even ideas about writing.
Notably absent above is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I think I hate as much as the kids do. I can see some value in teaching it - it's interesting to ponder whether the book is racist, and interesting to look at the satire of it, and for kids to wrap their heads around the controversy surrounding the novel both then and now - but I just think it's repetitive, silly, and that there's just not that much below the surface. I want the novel to be so much, I think, which is part of my problem. I want it to be a great anti-racist novel, I want it to be hilarious, I want Jim to be noble. But I still debate in my head whether it's racist (Jim certainly does some stupid, demeaning things), I don't think it's that funny (why does it meander so much?), and doubt if it's the great anti-racist novel (why all the silly king and the duke episodes? I hate the king and the duke).
So I'm sloggin through a book I'm really down on, and, at the same time, I'm pondering how in the world this piece of literature is helping them in life when they could be reading a great book on both the immigrant experience and race in America - namely, Barack Obama's Dreams of my Father. It's not like they'll most likely pick up that book sometime in their life; these kids are mostly not readers. The kids would get three times as much from that book - and I'm talking not just the ideas, but also the vocabulary - as they get from dumb Huck. And I'm just using that book as an example because I just read it. I'm sure there are tons more books the kids would love over Huck Finn. And, of course, it's not about what the kids love; but it is about making them lifelong readers and learners. Huck Finn, which I don't think one kid really likes, isn't doing that at all.
In my Junior classes, I've spent almost the last week having individual conferences with my students about their writing. It's hard. I'm pushing them harder than I've ever been pushed as a writer in high school or college, and they're responding well. However, the rest of the class is unsupervised and just keeping busy on independent work while I'm talking with the individual student. With classes of 37 or 38, it gets tedious to go through them all, as well as finding appropriate work for the rest of the kids to be doing.
The essays are due tomorrow, though, so that should help matters for a bit.
Not to mention that my room is still full of kids until after dark.
Not to mention one of my favorite students was almost kidnapped by that stereotypical man-in-a-van on the way to school on Monday, and all of her materials are at police headquarters being fingerprinted, and she's understandably shook up.
Not to mention one of the most disappointing students I've ever taught - and I've taught him for two years now - is featured heavily in the student newspaper today. Just what his ego needs. I don't know if he's learned one thing from me in a year and a half. Some days, it certainly doesn't seem like it.
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