Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Spring Semester

Well, the first semester is behind us and now we're on to semester 2. Honestly I like teaching more in the spring than I do for the winter for a few reasons.

1. Romeo and Juliet. While this will probably make eyes roll and groans abound, I do enjoy teaching Shakespeare. Now understand that while I admire Shakespeare and understand his importance in Western Literature, I don't worship at the altar of 'The Bard'. I've only read 4 of his plays and only a handful of his sonnets.

What I enjoy is watching inner city 9th graders not only understand R&J, but really get into a play that is more than 400 years old. I enjoy opening their eyes and ears to the power of the written word. I like teaching them about the symbolism contained in the play, and I hope that I get another moment like last year when Romeo proposed to Juliet and I had a student audibly go 'Oh!... ahhhhh' when she understood what had happened. I love it when I get a kid like last year who averaged about a 19% all year... except for Romeo and Juliet when he averaged an 81%. I like it when hardened kids get sucked into the romance and tragedy that is Romeo and Juliet. And no, there are no Shakespeare posters in my room, hopefully there never will be...

2. Poetry: What irritates me about HS poetry is that it's really PiNO. Poetry in name only. Sure they talk about rhyme schemes and meter, and even bore er teach kids about a few important poems and poets, but seriously? Is that the BEST they can do?

Needless to say I ignore the garbage in the textbooks and created my own month long introduction to poetry unit. Gone are the idiotic poems and half-assed explanations. Instead the kids get to learn about the poetic form and what makes a ballad a ballad. I show them what rhyme schemes are and why they matter. I teach them the difference between major forms of poetry. We listen to poems being recited over the speakers and then learn about poets and poems.

When they are done, they know what the difference between a ballad and a heroic couplet is. They know why pastorals are important and why Shakespeare and Marlowe used blank verse to write their plays in. They get the joy of reading fun poems like 'The Tale of Custard The Dragon', and see the emotions behind poems like 'Warming Her Pearls' and 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'. They also learn about Haiku and Tanka poetry.

Finally they get to write some of their own poetry. They must write a haiku, a tanka, a ballad and a heroic couplet. If they want extra credit they can give any of the forms we study a try. I don't really do much with meter or the really technical part of poetry for a couple of reasons: I don't care and I don't want to bore them to death.

3. Extended teaching time! By this I mean no vacations. I like vacations but honestly November and December are wasted months because kids are always on vacation mode. They are either getting ready for a long weekend or just coming back from a long weekend. It's impossible to really teach because you can't build any momentum. I like having a long stretch where I can really just go for it with my teaching and not worry about long weekends and extended breaks.

4. Summer vacation! When you look at reasons 1-3, would it surprise to you find out that I'm pretty much wiped out when summer break starts?

Before I forget, I wanted to mention something funny that happened this week. My honors students are reading 'Letter From A Birmingham Jail' before they start on Romeo and Juliet. The teacher across the hall from me asked me for a copy of the letter so he could read it over the weekend. Mr. J., who is black came up to me on Monday and said this about Dr. King... 'Dr. King's got a little thug in him doesn't he?' I laughed about it in agreement. Mr. J. was impressed with the courage and backbone that Dr. King possessed and was surprised by his willingness to call other religious leaders on the carpet and properly chastise (well chew them out) them for their lack of support for the cause of civil rights.

I'll never look at Dr. King the same way again.