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.