Monday, October 27, 2008


Today was a good day.

My Lit and Language 11 class began working on their Edgar Allan Poe imovie trailers. I’m worried though. Just when I went got imovie all figured out, the software on all of the computers in the library was updated over the summer, so now I don’t know what is going on. Usually, this is never a problem, but I’ve heard bad things about the newest version of imovie. Why apple had to go and mess with a good thing is beyond me.

My third block College Comp class was a riot. We are working on our fifth theme, which happens to involve writing an essay in the traditional way, well by ‘traditional’ I mean in the way of Montaigne, who used the essay as a way to explore what he thought about subjects (as opposed to ‘proving’ a thesis as the modern way seems to be).

Student had to write two “On . . .” essays on whatever concrete objects they wanted. I gave them a list but advised them to feel free to deviate from that list. As an example, we talked about an essays of Montaigne’s called “On . . . thumbs.”

Well, today the essays sure rolled in . . . at least in my third block College Comp class. Students read about ipods, pets, their rooms, slow drivers, eyes (in this essay, the student revealed a time she found a hair in her eye and as she pulled on it, realized that it was a rather long hair that actually wrapped around her eyeball – and it ended with a glob of puss!). That got several of us rubbing our eyes. Another essay was about “Hydrogen Hydroxide” and how deadly it was (found in drownings and car accidents) and addicting (prominent athletes can be seen gulping it down at an alarming rate) plus it is contained in pollution, namely acid rain. This horrible substance should be banned at once. Of course, that substance is water. What a satire. It had the students rolling. Then one of my true stars read an essay on, well, feces. It was a rational account of the substance. He analyzed how ironic it was that the substance can be used as fertilizer, yet if you were to bring the subject up at the dinner table, well . . . it wouldn’t go over well. Then he talked about the different names for it. Finally, he recounted a childhood experience with it that left half the class disturbed and the other half crying from laughter. I had to take my glasses off and wipe the tears from my eyes. David Sedaris’s classic “Big Boy” essay has nothing on this kid’s!

The voices are starting to emerge. Slowly, but they’re coming a long.

My final College Comp class is another story altogether. It’s a smaller class, but they aren’t as vocal, nor are they particularly energetic. What works with the earlier class tends to bomb with them.

That reminds me of a phenomenon in teaching. How one lesson or activity can work so well with one class, but fail miserably with another.

Years ago I had one of my top ten all time class periods (who thinks of such rankings, right?). It was my Comm 10 class. Something like 2001 or so.

We were studying poetry. I had an overhead of the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. As we read it, the students made the imagery come alive. They argued about each rhetorical question and its effectiveness and how that related to the overall meaning of the poem. Then they talked about the title (the poem is more commonly known as “A Dream Deferred” but I held the title “Harlem” until the end to help hammer home the questions that the poem raises). We spent the entire class discussing the poem. Everyone shared and contributed. I was walking on air.

As the bell sounded, I ran for my desk and scribbled down notes, hoping to preserve the lesson for the next class.

Fourth block arrived and the next Comm 10 class walked in. I put up the poem. They read it and collectively sighed . . . “So what?”

I was heartbroken.

I realized right then that teaching is all about those moments your create with the specific kids unique to each class. There is no lesson plan formula (sorry Madaline Hunter and all those people at the state level that seem to think we can take model lessons and easily foster the skills students are tested on) that guarantees a great lesson.

The same is true with my two College Comp classes. So now, I’ve totally stopped trying to do the same thing with each class. It sounds weird, teaching the same class two different ways, but I really don’t know what else to do.

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