Day three brings me to a problem I’ve had previously and need to keep revisiting as much as necessary: time management. (Brief digression: I was once in a band called Element of Time – hence the title. We did not, however, cover “Under Pressure.”)
Today was another day of grammar for the juniors; we’re trying to work through this last unit on punctuation, and we can then put aside grammar for some more literature (and I think everyone will gladly trade grammar for American transcendentalists). I’ve told them from my first day of teaching this semester (well, yesterday) that I want to treat this unit like a Band-Aid: rip it off as quick and painlessly as possible. Let’s face it – these students don’t like grammar, and I’m afraid that I’m at a bit of a loss as to how I can make it any more interesting. My co-op has commisserated with me and advised not to worry about that since grammar is the dull part of English (apparently), but I don’t know if I’m satisfied with that. (English people or anyone else: How can grammar instruction be made more interesting? What have your past English teachers done to spice up this typically tedious aspect of language?)
I haven’t wanted to separate grammar from the transcendentalist unit that we need to get started on, though, and I’ve been trying to include both. The problem with this today was two-fold: 1) I obviously underestimated the amount of time that would be spent on the grammar lesson (on ellipsis points), and 2) the first section, which inevitably ends being the benchmark for how the lesson goes, was a little bit difficult, acting as though the directions for the homework of the previous day had been vague (the second class demonstrated this was untrue) and generally acting more confused about what was going on. I was also not entirely prepared for one activity; I had found a quote from Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar” that sort of epitomizes the transcendentalist view on nature, which culminates in the great sentence
And, in fine, the ancient precept, “Know thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study nature,” are at last one maxim.
I prepared a selection of text preceding and including this line and asked the students to format the passage for a quotation, including using ellipsis points to remove a relatively superfluous sentence. This allowed for some connection between the grammar unit and the literature…except that I basically ran out of time for any literature. I had intended to display the longer passage on the overhead projector but hadn’t prepared the transparency, so I gave a few minutes for students to work on their assignment while I wrote the passage down. This wasted far too much time, and that killed me. I was starting to go over biographical information on Emerson when the bell rang.
If this has never happened to any of you (and I hope it hasn’t!), having the bell ring in the middle of instruction when you are clearly not ready to be done is extremely exasperating. That bell was a clear indicator to everyone – the co-op, the students, and certainly to myself – that I had not prepared well enough and been aware of where I was in the timeline of the class. I tend to kick myself when big (and especially obvious) mistakes happen, and so I covered myself better for the second section. That class went much more smoothly: the students were better aware of the material and were generally more responsive, the transparency was ready and could be used immediately after the grammar instruction was over, and I was able to use the passage to preview the transcendentalist view of nature.
Still, I ended up having to shift my entire plan of instruction because of one day that I wasn’t ready for. This has been an excellent lesson for me – always think ahead and be aware of instructional time.
Tomorrow is yet another day of grammar, this time apostrophes in the possessive case, contractions, and plurals. I alloted a full period for this because so many students (and people in general) falter on the difference between possessive and contractions (especially homophones like their/they’re). The downside of this: a full period of grammar, and still no way to really make the material interesting. Unfortunately, it really does feel like ripping off a Band-Aid – it’s necessary but still not enjoyable. But at least we can get through it, and then we have plenty of literature that we can get to. Here’s to hoping that the discomfort for all will be minimal.