Friday, September 16, 2011

Reading with Teenagers.

I just finished my second week at my new placement. If you recall, I am at a different high school from last year, but in the same district. I am actually teaching at MY old high school, which is a bit trippy and odd. But since most of the teachers I had as a student have since retired, there is a new staff to learn.

Anyway, I am teaching two of the same classes I taught last year-senior English and sophomore English. This is great, because I already have experience in what worked and bombed with my classes last year. I have some good lessons on standby, and I am familiar with the content.

But I am amazed at how different the two schools are. And how different this school is from the time I graduated 8ish years ago. It has been a lot of work adjusting to a new set of kids with different needs than the kids I had last year. Don't get me wrong-both groups of kids are great, but these kids, in my current placement, need a lot of help.

We had a discussion in class yesterday during our grammar warm-up about parts of speech. We are working through a grammar program that the teacher I am covering for came up with (It is a pretty awesome intro to basic grammar and I really like it). The first concept is reviewing parts of speech. We have been talking about this for over a week. Cue yesterday when my kids got into an argument with me about how "English is the only language with parts of speech" after they didn't believe me that "have" or "is" were verbs. I had to pull out some (very rusty) Spanish skills to conjugate a verb to show them that YES, all languages have parts of speech.

These are things you would think 15 and 16 year-old kids would know, but don't. A junior in my Government class asked me if Japan was a country or just part of China.

It is hard to understand how they can't understand these things, but rather than continuing to be frustrated by it, I know I have to reteach them things they already/should have learned. That's okay since teaching is my job!

But with all the struggles, you also get some great moments. I am instituting a "reading day" on Fridays for the kids in my sophomore English classes. They have to read a 250 page novel of choice by the end of October, so giving them time in class is the best way to make sure that they actually read the book rather than find summaries and notes online.

Yesterday, I had our media specialist come up with a huge cart of books to give them a book talk and check out books for reading. She set up books all over the room, discussed some of her favorites (I joined in), then we let the kids "go shopping." When someone found a book they liked, she checked it out to them, complete with a scratch and sniff bookmark (I, sadly, did not get one. And the apple pie one smelled delicious). Walking around the room yesterday was an interesting experience. There were some kids who looked for books that were exactly 250 pages. They didn't care what it was about, just that it was short. Others were looking for the titles we had recommended (The Hunger Games disappeared in seconds). Others asked me to help them.

It was fun to guide some students to YA titles I love, like Sarah Dessen and Suzanne Collins. I also convinced one girl to try The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, since she has that sense of humor to appreciate it. I steered another girl to Looking for Alaska. Another boy selected 1984. Yet another selected Ender's Game. It was just reassuring to see them thinking about their reading choices. And I stressed to them, I want you to enjoy what you read. So pick something you WANT to read.

Today they brought in their books and got to reading right away. Some were more into it than others, but I was surprised by how absorbed many of them were without me even telling them to begin. After taking attendance, I grabbed my own book, Moby-Dick, moved to an open desk, and started reading with them. This alarmed them and a few students asked, "Why are you reading? You don't have to!"

So I told them, "I'm not reading because I have to. I'm reading because I want to. I told you, I won't make you guys do anything I'm not willing to do myself."

So we read together for a half hour. And when I called time, they asked for ten more minutes.

I gave it to them.

It is moments like today that make me grateful for my choice to go into education, even after this week and the conversations I have had with my students. I see a lot of things wrong with our educational system (how someone can get to 11th grade and not know that Japan is a country is beyond me), and I know that there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. But while we were reading today, it didn't matter.

It didn't matter that I had a sore throat and wanted to rip my throat out, or that I would have a rough time with one of my seniors later that afternoon, or that my password for my e-mail still wasn't working, or that my father-in-law started his chemo the other day and is having a rough time, or that I would have a pile of papers to take home and grade, or that I have a pile of clothes to wash this weekend and chores to complete. It didn't matter.

What mattered is that a classroom filled with teenagers were reading, and they were amazed I was reading with them. How can that not be one of the best moments? It was. And I'll remember it always.


  1. That's awesome. I'd have loved to read in class -- and see the teacher reading. My sophomore year teacher had a box in the room where we could anoymously share our creative writing. She would read aloud from the box each Friday, for the entire period. It was a great way to inspire writing. One of my favorite memories from school. :-)

  2. I haven't been out of high school all that much longer than you, but I can't believe your students didn't know some of those things! (Chine & Japan!!) Actually, the ability to strengthen English skills is one of the reasons I have for believing that all kids should be taught a foreign language--the younger the better. I remember when I took Italian in college, there was confusion over when to change the vowel on a particular word--it changed if it was used as an adjective but not as an adverb. The problem some of my classmates had was knowing the difference between adjectives and adverbs. But to be fair, I'm not sure how well that it is taught--I didn't have grammar in school past 7th grade. (My English classes focused on writing & reading. I had some awesome teachers, too--I'm not complaining there--it's more the curriculum they are expected to work within.) Yay for the reading successes, though! Hopefully this enjoyment of reading thing will rub off!

  3. I LOVED Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! And good for you for having reading time in your class. I wish we had that when I was in high school.

    And you and I have already had the discussion about how someone can be in 10th grade and not know how Japan is its own country. *shakes head*

  4. Love this. And this is what I'm doing with my ESL students too. So cool to be able to read with them.

    I love that they were shocked you were reading! :)

  5. awwwww, seriously awesome story, although I'm so sorry to hear about your father-in-law and the laundry waiting for you.

  6. That sure does sound like a great moment :) I'm glad you got to experience it!

  7. I know how you feel. I'm a tutor at my college and I know what it's like to struggle with students. I also tutor students with writing skills, and I can't tell you how many of them have come in wanting me to just about write their paper for them.

    But it's great that your students are so excited about reading. I would kill for some time just to read, a time free of guilt that I should be doing something else, lol

  8. I'm sorry you've had a hard week, but I am so impressed with you and your teaching -- it must be so gratifying to know you're getting those kids reading! And I'm EXTRA impressed that you're reading Moby Dick -- wasn't that going to be a group read at one point? I still have a copy I haven't touched, sigh. Someday. . . .

  9. My high school English teacher always assigned one day a week for us to read in class. I'm pretty sure it was to make sure we actually spent some time reading the assigned book but everyone looked forward to it. Also, he would brew a pot of tea. I always liked that. He was a fabulous teacher.

  10. That sounds like my school experience. It was pitiful. I didn't learn anything and while I wouldn't have asked about Japan and China, I definitely wouldn't have known about, say, Hong Kong and China. Nor could I even place all the US states on a map. Yeah, horrible education, in many ways!

    I'm glad you're having such a good experience with the reading though! That's awesome.

  11. I don't know what I'm more shocked by, the fact that some students don't understand that both China and Japan or that some students didn't care what they read as long as it hit the minimum exactly.

    I am glad that they asked for 10 more minutes of reading time. I'm thrilled that you are trying to instill a love for reading in them.

    Chemo is rough (my aunt and grandmother had to go through it). But I hope that it helps your father in law. Thinking happy thoughts.

  12. That's what happens when someone relies on school for their education. I prefer books to be my teachers although I have had a pretty good education so far (there's no way anyone in my classes would have confused China with Japan or make any other obvious mistake).

    Reading in class sounds great! I assume they have no idea about your blog, otherwise they wouldn't be so shocked about you joining them!

  13. What a great story! I'm glad you're students seem to be enjoying their books. We never had that at school, and I wish we had. Most kids, even in honors and AP classes, wouldn't read the books but just rely on Cliff Notes. (We didn't have much online book info back in my day. Haha!) I enjoyed reading them though, so it wasn't much of a problem for me.

  14. Allie, you must be a wonderful teacher. Your story could be straight out of one of those teacher-changes-students'-lives type movies. How cool it must have been to see the kids considering what to read and then reading it. They may have a long way to go, but it sounds like they're getting a good start and have a great guide.

  15. This is a really inspiring post, and I think it's sad that some students didn't care what they were reading as long as it was 250 pages. I wish I had a teacher like you, when I was in high school. I was caught reading books while the teacher was lecturing several times in class. LOL. Having time to read would have been awesome. :)

  16. The extra reading time sounds so gratifying--it's so great to see reluctant readers finding books that they enjoy and identify with. There's so much great YA and MG stuff out there now that there's a little something for everyone. :)

    Congrats on making a difference to your class.

  17. I love that you have a day set aside each week just to read in class. You would have been my favorite teacher for sure!

    It's also great that you allowed your kids to pick their own book to read in October rather than assigning one book for the whole class to read. My favorite reading project was when my English teacher in my Junior year gave us a summer reading assignment where we had to read a book of our choice from the Modern Library's Top 100 list and then give a presentation. I loved that and I enjoyed hearing everyone's thoughts on the book they had chosen to read.

    I picked Sophie's Choice, by the way, and I loved it.

  18. I love this post. What a wonderful feeling it must have been to be in that classroom on that day. :)