Reflections on Teaching, Part Two

*You ought to read “Reflections on Teaching, Part One” first.

The only shake-up that has thrown me off pretty badly occurred several years ago when BTW applied for, received and accepted one of Governor Riley’s AP (Advanced Placement) grants, and our school’s total scheduling process was revamped. Our school used to be on a traditional block schedule, with four 96-minutes classes first semester and four different 96-minute classes second semester, but that format was thought to be affecting our AP Test scores, since students who took the test first semester had four months between the end of the course and the test. So we went to a modified block schedule, with alternating days — one set of four classes today and another set of four classes tomorrow, all year long. I still had my magnet students every day under both systems, but it affected the scheduling of my elective students. I said that I did still want to teach elective students, so instead of having a level 1 class, a level 2, and a levels 3&4 class with elective students included in them, my level 1 and level 2 classes were combined to make a dedicated separate elective class. Teaching levels 1 and 2 at the same time has never worked well, no matter how I write the syllabus. Either way I’m boring the level 2 students with something that they have already learned, or I’m trying to divide myself up and teach two classes at once.

Even despite all those changes in legislation, certification, administration and scheduling, what I think about most often are things that happen inside the classroom. I try to reconcile the fact that only about 1/3 of my graduates go on to study English or creative writing with the fact that I teach a multi-year creative writing program; my constant dilemma is: do I teach an intensive creative writing curriculum that may only directly affect a small percentage of students, or do I create a more general literary and cultural curriculum that uses creative writing to teach lessons that will be more generally applicable in life? Typically, my answer, via the syllabi that I write, is the latter.

Another major dilemma for me is the inability to know on a regular basis who I am affecting and who I am not reaching. (You may be thinking, “Tests . . . duh!” but it isn’t that simple.) So many students sit quietly in class, looking in my direction while I teach, making no facial expressions, and providing no feedback. The problem is that some of them are listening and contemplating what I am teaching about and have not yet had the time to soak it in and decide what ideas or questions they might have, while others are staring blankly into the void or trying to disappear among the faces with the view that high school is nothing more than a four-year sentence to serve. It is almost impossible to tell them all apart, the silent ones. If I could know which ones were quietly learning . . . and which ones were sitting around wishing I would shut up . . . but I can’t.

(continued in the final entry, “Reflections on Teaching, Part Three”)

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