When we reached a certain scene in Hamlet, I decided to switch things up and have students delve a bit deeper into the psychological aspects of the characters. I gave them a modern translation to use side-by-side with Shakespeare’s words and asked them to explain and respond to two different speeches in the scene. One of them was my favorite speech in all of Hamlet (and possibly all of Shakespeare), spoken by Claudius on the topic of prayer. I’ve always been fascinated by this speech, so much so that I memorized it for a competition in high school. I admitted this to my students. They looked at me like I was crazy, and said as much to my face. ”You memorized this? By choice?!” they said, shaking their heads in disbelief.
“Hey,” I replied with a shrug, “Everyone is nerdy about something. This just happened to be mine.”
I wondered when I took this new job two months ago if I’d be able to maintain my blog. After all, instead of just subbing, I now have to dedicate my time and attention to grading, lesson planning, and you know, teaching. I wondered if the added responsibilities would prevent me from taking the time to write.
It hasn’t. I’m still cranking out at least one post a week. Teaching full-time has given me new avenues of inspiration and a wealth of stories to share, and I still enjoy the mental process of putting my thoughts down in writing. It gives me a chance to reflect and focus, instead of getting caught up in the daily grind.
Something else has fallen by the wayside, though. I have noticed a definite shift in how I experience the blogging world. I have far less time for reading blogs, and I feel a little bad about that.
“Quiet game, everybody!” The speaker is one of the more vocal guys in the class, the one who usually riles up the others, but they have work to do today. The quiet game was his favorite strategy to get himself to focus. ”Five minutes. One, two, three, go.”
And the room silenced.
The absolute silence only lasted for a few seconds, but the spirit of the game continued, with comments kept to quiet murmuring mostly on topic with their work. They’re all seniors, this class full of students taking college writing. They meet in my room, but I’m not teaching the class. My predecessor still teaches it, giving them their assignments online and occasionally coming in to meet with them in person. On a regular day, third period is a glorified study hall for them (and me). It’s a chance for them to meet together and focus on the work for this class, but they’re free to work on whatever they want. If they have a more pressing assignment in another class, they work on that instead and save the college writing work for another time. And there are days when they don’t have much to do at all, so they tend to converse and browse the internet instead. I’m pretty “hands off” with this group. I don’t even have a syllabus for the class, much less access to their individual assignments. If they choose to focus on the course work, good for them. If they choose to do something else, that’s up to their discretion.
I had already started writing this post when three students came into my study hall asking if they could survey some of the kids in the room. As they circulated among the class and asked their questions, it became harder and harder for me to simply sit quietly and listen. The survey was on racism in America today, and in my eavesdropping I caught wave upon wave of the naiveté that inspired me to write this post in the first place. These kids have good lives. Their families are well off. Aside from the handful of Korean exchange students, our school doesn’t have much in the way of diversity. They’ve never seen the impact of racism in action – which led them to conclude that racism is now a non-issue. I cringed inwardly, already mulling over ideas for bringing up the topic in class some time.
I love my job. I love this demographic, though not always for the reasons people expect. For the most part, my students are awesome – respectful, trustworthy, and motivated. But man, they’re naive.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two senior boys popped through my classroom door along with the sophomores making their way into class after lunch. Their laughing exclamation was not referring to articles of clothing, but a mispronounced abbreviation of my last name. These two boys stopped in my room with the sole purpose of calling me “Robes.” And in that moment, a dreaded vision of my future at this school flashed before my eyes.
I don’t know if you noticed… I didn’t immediately “deal” with the fact that my blog has suddenly gained a bigger audience. I knew it was coming. I received the e-mail telling me I would be featured on Freshly Pressed a few days before it actually happened, and since this is Round Two for me (um… what?!), I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Lots of Likes. Lots of comments. I’d begin with all the good intentions of replying to all of them, and then I’d give up and just start hitting “approve.” Lots of new followers. Lots of people clicking around my blog, liking and commenting on other posts, too. And that’s exactly what happened.
Knowing it was coming didn’t mean that I was ready for it. I watched it all unfold in front of me, but like last time, I kept myself a little detached. Last time I had a very good reason for my detachment. This time? This time I think I was just intimidated by the idea of engaging in all the attention, discussion, and general blogging explosion. I’m still coming to grips with the idea that my blog now has an audience. Not just a few random people here and there, but a steady stream of visitors, complete strangers who are invested in hearing what I have to say. In the past two weeks my blog has gained almost 400 more followers (hello to all of you!). I knew it was coming. My mind is still blown.
“Are you going to be teaching English 11 next year?” Before I could answer, his classmates jokingly berated him for his word choice. The junior year course isn’t called English 11, but that wasn’t the point. His point was that he wanted to know if I’ll be his teacher again next year. ”If I had an answer, I’d tell you,” I replied.
And then something dawned on the boy sitting next to him. ”Are you going to be working here at all next year?” he asked.
“If I had an answer, I’d tell you,” I said again. The energy in the room lulled a little as that sank in, but not much can keep these boys down and within seconds they were joking about something else.
I know what you’re doing. It’s nothing new. You think you’re distracting me, skillfully diverting the teacher’s attention away from the lesson and starting me on some tangential discussion. You think you’re somehow “winning” because we didn’t get as far as I’d planned in the lesson.
(photo credit: anime-girl963)
I love it. You think I haven’t seen this before? I know who you are. I know what to look for, when to indulge you, and when to steer us back on course. Don’t you understand? I want nothing more than to engage these discussions, to embrace your questions, and to revel in the spontaneity of learning!
Yes, learning. Believe it or not, this is when the “shaping lives” part of my job takes place. This is when I can talk to you about things that are real and relevant to you right now. Not that my planned lessons are irrelevant – they’re important for reasons you probably haven’t even considered. But the tangents are important, too. This is when you get to see me as a real person, as someone who might have something of relevance to say. This is when I get to see your personalities and quirks, which actually helps me plan lessons down the road. The better I know you, the better I can teach you. Besides, you hold on to these tangents, even if you don’t realize it.
My classroom is on the second floor, and the adjoining hallway has a window that looks out over the gym. As I walked passed it the other day, I saw the PE class running drills in full gear. The thought that crossed my mind? ”Man, I’m glad I’m not subbing that.”
That thought made me pause. Subbing. Was it really only a month ago that I was subbing? Have I really spent over half of my career subbing? Have I really only been back in full-time teaching for just over a week?
Teaching is so right, so natural, that as soon as I’m back it feels like I never left. Sure, the building is different. The break room has different amenities. My colleagues and students wear different faces, and there are different procedures and details for me to learn. But the act of teaching is the same. The major difficulties, the questions, and the skills used are – at their core – the same as everywhere else I’ve taught. I stand in front of a room full of hormone-filled, easily distracted teenagers, and I employ every strategy I can to engage them in Shakespeare, research papers, and life lessons. It’s what I did in all the schools where I taught before, so the habits and instincts are already in place. I am a teacher again, not just a sub. I just let out a sigh of relief as I typed that sentence.
Katie was so poised. She stood with perfect posture behind the podium. Her demeanor was sweet and kind, and the respect the students felt towards her was palpable. They quieted immediately at her first hint of starting class. As she taught with gentle authority, her own interest in the topic intrinsically engaged the students. She was alert and vibrant, but still calm. She almost never moved from behind that podium, except maybe to write something on the board. Her students listened attentively, actively responded to her questions, and took her words to heart.
I’m not her. I learned a lot from Katie in the months when I student taught under her supervision, but we’re very different teachers. I can’t stand still. I move. I pace. I wander between the desks. I write on the board frequently. The only time I’m immobile in front of a class is when I sit on the stool I place next to the podium, but I never stay there for long. Katie’s voice was one of quiet confidence, while I speak with a voice trained to be heard in the back row of the balcony. She would laugh and crack jokes, but she was always so sweet and gentle even then. I’m more sarcastic. I banter. Instead of praising Romeo and Juliet as a grand, sweeping love story, I make fun of the characters for behaving like stupid teenagers. Students know that I care about them, but they also know I like to joke around.