Back to School

Tomorrow marks the first day of a new school year for me. Yes, I've already had a week of faculty meetings, working to get my head into the proper space for a teacher in this new environment, followed by four days of Camp Week, when students arrive, get the basic bureaucratic needs out of the way, and start the process of becoming socialized. That means I've had a full nine days of getting to know my colleagues, and a little less than half that of getting to know my students, but to me, school doesn't really start until classes do. And classes don't start until tomorrow.

Some of what happens tomorrow will be old hat. I'll be standing in front of a bunch of boys and trying to tell them things about books and writing and the English language, which I've been doing six days a week most weeks since 1995. That's not going to be the hard part. The hard part will be adjusting to a new schedule, a new structure, and a (fundamentally) new prep.

The schedule will be liberating in many ways. I'll have Wednesdays off, for one thing, and I won't have evening or weekend duties. Basically, once the last kid leaves campus (circa 3:45), I'll be free to head home. The difficulty, however, is that two classes per day will be much longer than I'm used to; first and second periods are both and hour and twenty minutes--roughly half again as long as the classes I've been teaching for two decades. The afternoon classes are 50 minutes, which is close enough to my norm that I probably won't notice the difference, but coming up with strategies to keep middle-schoolers engaged for the length of of a feature film may prove more challenging.

The structural change is a need to write out a homework "grid" that is available to students two weeks in advance. This isn't drastically different from the syllabi I've handed out over the years, but it will need to be updated weekly in order to stay current; I can't just create one syllabus at the start of the semester and work from it. It will make me a bit more flexible and responsive during the course, though. There's also a heavy commitment to teaching note taking, which means I've got to do some serious work on preparing partial notes for the boys to complete; as they get more accomplished with understanding both their reading assignments and the way to record information from them, I'll be able to take a less involved role.

Finally, there's history. Though my degrees are in English and education, I have always loved history, and I came very close to majoring in it. (The decision to go with English was largely a function of my realization, just before my senior year at UNC, that I had enough credits to get an English degree by May, but would have to stay in school for at least one more session to get a history degree.) I wasn't done yet, though. When I student-taught in 1988, I worked with a mentor whose teaching load was extraordinarily varied; he taught ancient history, journalism, creative writing, and speech. Since I was ostensibly going to be teaching English after I wrapped up my M.A.T., he thought I needed to work in an actual English class. so he farmed me out to another teacher during his journalism class, but I was left to work with the other three, covering everything from argumentation to Greek military actions to sonnet forms.

That may be why my English and speech classes at Woodberry tended to have a strong historical component. When I taught my speech classes about Student Congress, we always took some time to study the Constitution and Bill of Rights, while my 11th-graders could look forward to a lengthy discussion about the mechanisms of slavery and secession when we dove into Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life... Still, I haven't taught a history-qua-history class in many years, so putting this one together for a group of sixth graders will require some creativity on my part, no question.

In short, the above is what I'll be working on today. After brunch.





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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on September 13, 2015 8:17 AM.

Between the Lines was the previous entry in this blog.

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