Today was the first day of fall break for me, and, in a fit of either overachieving or masochism (or perhaps a combination), I took on a full day of classes with my co-op for student teaching. The result, however, was much better than I expected.
The first class was the easiest (if you don’t count the whole getting-up-early-enough-to-travel-half-an-hour-for-class-at-7:45 part) – observing the 8th grade class I’ll be teaching in next semester. I finally met the teacher I’ll be working with for that, who is an alum and knew some of my current professors when he was in school. The kids in this class are a little on the crazy side, but they seem like a fun bunch.
Weirdest part of this class: No literature. The class is strictly writing and grammar; the curriculum puts lit in a reading course for junior high students. I don’t know how I feel about that.
But thus began my normal day at the high school with the senior AP Brit lit course that I’ve observed on several occasions. We were covering background material on the history of Britain, and I decided to have each group prepare and present on various sections rather than lecturing. There were some logistical issues with group selection and attentiveness, but they didn’t really detract from the class. I was a little disappointed that the students didn’t use some of the more creative options I offered (although they did use all the posterboard I had allotted for them), but they did an adequate job of covering the material with only a very little need for supplementing on my part.
The other class I’d observed was the first section of 11th grade honors American lit, and I’d also taught a lesson to them before with a moderate degree of success. We discussed “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant today, which was remarkable for me given that the poem has some fairly difficult language and covers a serious theme from an interesting perspective (a new vision of death, as it were). There was enough to talk about that we actually ran out of time; I was a little frustrated that we didn’t get to wrap up the poem as a result, but we’d covered the major themes fairly well.
The coolest part of this class: I broke off from the discussion of the poem to ask the students why death is so fearsome for us as humans. I saw a jump in engagement almost immediately: the students really rose to the challenge of thinking about the psychology of death and the possible motives for fear. (I have to give at least a little credit to Franklin Mason for initially spurring me to think about our collective death anxiety – that 16- and 17-year-olds were able to do so says a lot for them!)
Also, a student was able to make a connection between the personification of Nature (imagine, a Romantic poet personifying Nature…) and Grandmother Willow from the Disney movie Pocahontas, and I was very proud of her to bring forth such an evocative example – I mean, seriously, a talking tree with a face? – that would resonate with her peers.
The next class, which meets during the lunch hour, was another section of American lit, and the discussion was also of “Thanatopsis.” This period was a little different in that I got a lot less participation from them, but it was a good exercise in quick adaptation: I couldn’t just let them sit there and not answer my questions! I also think (and I told my co-op as much) that not knowing the students in this class by name hurt in that regard; there were several students who I might have been more inclined to call on for responses, had I been able to refer to them by name.
The last class of the day was the second section of AP Brit lit, and a grand ending it was: unlike 2nd period, the students took some of my creative ideas, such as reenacting significant moments in history like the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (the group who did this actually simulated a stabbing, which admittedly brought the event very much to life despite the fact that they were attempting to be humorous). The logistical problems of 2nd period were also greatly diminished; my co-op and I had debriefed after 3rd period, so I had a better grasp on how to handle the whole thing.
Now that this day is done, I get to rest easy: my internship hours are complete, as is my requirement to teach three lessons. Our instructor for the class which requires the internship wanted half of our hours to be done before midterm – all of mine are done now, and I can rest easy (well, after I finish writing up the required lesson plans for each lesson…).