Friday was satisfying for me, satisfying in a way Fridays normally aren’t (that is, satisfying not just because it’s the end of the week). I feel like I’m finally starting to pull everything together – for the most part – and Friday was a good example of this.
I went to school thinking about my thought of the day, and I decided at some point that I needed to address the elephant in the room with my seniors – the fact that my relative inexperience has been keeping us from progressing like we should be. I can’t explain why, but I felt like I needed to be honest about the situation that I – and by extension, all of my seniors – have found myself in with this course.
So I took a leap of faith. Before 2nd hour (the first section of seniors), I wrote my thought of the day as the Pensée du jour and started class by making a statement about the state of affairs. (Odd fact: I only know this phrase because of Blaise Pascal’s work Pensées; I am not well-versed in French at all.) I wanted to be forthright about everything, and I think I succeeded; I apologized for the proverbial wheel-spinning that has gone on but used the Pensée to express that we were going to move forward. I then proceeded into the lesson, which was a little bit of a backtrack to make sure that we had appropriately covered the material. Consequently, I felt much better after this class that I had gotten us back on track.
5th hour – my problem course, if I have one – was really the class that I had in mind when I considered this talk of mine; they have been very much aware of my own shortcomings with the material and with instruction, trying to exploit it where the other class has not. To make things a little more difficult, Mrs. Buske was out to a meeting for the afternoon, and so I was teaching with a sub in the room (albeit one who is fairly well known to the students and who would have had the credibility to help me if necessary). So I did what I knew I needed to do – I buckled down and let them know I was serious, firmly threatening detentions during our Channel One period whenever the noise level grew so much that I was having difficulty fielding individual questions about the research paper. I’d be lying if I said that there was complete silence after this, but the volume came down to a reasonable level immediately, and that was good enough for me at that point.
Really, though, the class was much more tolerable than normal, even despite circumstances that could have possibly made it more difficult. The students were as rambunctious as normal – and rambunctious really is the word to describe them – but they were able to be directed. This class always reminds me of the metaphor used in Plato’s Phaedrus: these kids have a lot of capacity because they are very bright, but they have to be kept under control. I had to keep telling them to exercise some self-restraint, but really, I know that the restraint will have to come from me. I’m not that naive anymore (if I ever was in truth).
So we move on. The juniors had a test, and having graded over half of those, I’m very satisfied that my assessment is authentic enough. A third of the test was purely objective (multiple choice and short answer), another third was in short responses that required brief explication of a quote and personal engagement with it (since we’ve been talking about aphorisms), and the final third was one essay question covering one of the three biggest areas of the unit itself. I have read some incredibly good responses, ones that really engaged the material and showed me that they had been listened and internalizing it. (One factual error has clearly arisen, however: A lot of students think that Thoreau was a total hermit at Walden Pond when in truth he was just a short walk from Concord and had many visitors at his cabin. They also don’t have any excuse for not knowing this – it was clearly mentioned as a myth in a video clip we watched!)
Now I get to think toward next week: moving to Hawthorne and Melville for the juniors, continuing into structuring the research paper and some more notetaking with the seniors, and taking over the eighth graders from my second co-op. The latter should be relatively easy, comparatively, but I still want to get the small group of students involved in a way that helps them understand the material. It’s simple grammar stuff, and I know that a number of the students feel like this class is their least favorite or the period that feels the longest, so I’d like to help change that as much as I can while I’m teaching them. We’ll have to see.
Now, to the rest of my weekend…time to enjoy a little break.