For teachers, the end of year brings a strange mix of emotions: the impending relief of the last day of school is coupled with the weight of the final onslaught of paperwork. It’s a odd sensation, to feel both respite and stress simultaneously. One minute I find myself smiling as I cross off calendar days, and in the next moment I am putting the heel of my hand to my forehead as I draft my evaluation to hand to my department chair.
This year brought significant change not only for my department, but for me as a teacher. But, change is a hallmark of the job. It’s why I love teaching. It’s also what can make me feel the most unnerved. In September, I blogged about the doubts and uncertainties I had coming in to this year. At that point, and, if I’m being completely honest, for the better part of the year, I felt like a juggler attempting to keep batons of various sizes afloat. I’m happy to report that I didn’t drop too many while the circus raged around me.
My main concern was over AP Literature and Composition. I worried that my initial examination of each book could not possibly culminate in the same deep understanding of the texts as the teachers who have been instructing the course for years; that I would not be able to find a happy medium in terms of workload, assigning too much or too little; that I would create lessons that were either too hard or, conversely, lessons that wouldn’t challenge students enough, boring them easily. These concerns were ongoing and although I can answer now, that (I think) I did alright.
We took a deep dive into texts: Ironweed provided ample opportunity to discuss diction, allusion, and absolution; Age of Innocence allowed for an analysis of how characters navigate the stringent structure of the upper class to establish social currency; we admired author’s craft and voice through the multiple narrators of As I Lay Dying (“My mother is a fish.”) and Let the Great World Spin (“The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.”); Beloved prompted an intense evaluation of language and narrative structure (“I am Beloved and she is mine.”); and Less lent itself to a study of life’s big questions: Is a relationship successful if it ends? Is love “the lightning bolt” or “the good dear thing?” Who, really, do and should we write for? Based on the discussions that we had in class, ending on Less was, perhaps, the best decision I made this year and I am glad that I was able to get it approved for the curriculum.
During the end of January, I took a huge risk by implementing a unit on podcasts. I have yet to meet an AP Curriculum that leaves space for wiggle room, so I integrated this endeavor into our unit entitled What is Art? I worked with colleagues to develop rubrics, lessons, and cull mentor texts. We listened to podcasts, analyzing their structure and evaluating their content and composition. The students were receptive and excited to make recordings of their own, working alone or in pairs. All of the hard work culminated in my own podcast addiction and an Honorable Mention Award for my students’ submissions to NPR’s first ever Student Podcast Challenge. The risk paid off. You can listen to some of the podcasts our class produced here if you are interested. These kids really hit it out of the park.
Yet, in spite of these successes, I am left with more questions at the end of the year: Did I challenge the students enough? Sufficiently prepare them for the AP Exam? Do justice to the curriculum? It appears that to teach is to find yourself in a constant state of reflection.
9th grade turned out to be an entirely different animal. After having taught 9-Honors English for the last ten years, I had to make a significant adjustment to pacing and break down assignments into much smaller chunks than I had in the past. We did many of the same assignments and studied many of the same texts as before – Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, etc. – just with more focused instruction and revised requirements. The students really impressed me with their vignettes for House on Mango Street and their Dystopian novel projects. I found a way to keep the class rigorous while also being mindful of what I was asking students to do. I’d say, overall, it was a successful year.
My one regret is that I was not able to do as much with independent reading as I had in the past. Don’t get me wrong – students still completed two hours of reading in class and at home and engaged in quarterly reflections, even AP. We shopped for books, conferred about titles, and shared what we read. However, I was not able to offer the same extensions and projects with independent books as I had in the past. Previous students come back constantly to talk about what they are currently reading, or to ask me if I recall the project they had created for their independent book. This year I just couldn’t get to the big project, which I feel terribly remiss about as it is a topic that I presented at a round table session with Penny Kittle at the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention. I’m disappointed that I could not give students that one extra experience to remember.
Next year already promises to be a year of continued adaptation. Four sections of juniors will replace my sections of 9th grade and AP Literature and Composition (enrollment is down because of a district push for enrollment in AP Language and Composition). Even so, I’m already thinking of how to approach the upcoming courses. I’ve begun to have conversations with colleagues, and to gather and organize resources, at the same time that I am cleaning my classroom and shaking out my summer clothes.
Ah, relief and stress: the two strange sides of the teaching coin.