The Classroom


I’ve thought quite a bit about what teaching is going to be like as a first-year teacher, finally freed from the proverbial shackles – okay, that’s a little bit hyperbolic – of another teacher’s strictures and style. (Of course, the flip side of that is that the teachers you work with generally have worked to get those sorts of things lined out and know to a degree what does and doesn’t work.)

I want to invite more seasoned teachers to comment on their own first-year experiences, but let me hypothesize for a moment about what I think I need to keep at the forefront of my preparation for this year.

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Here’s another open question for educators of any sort, but especially those who specialize in English language arts and/or library science, as well as administrators (if I have any readers who are admins):

I set up my classroom library a few weeks ago – which, unfortunately, looks so meager compared to the shelf I have for books – with a number of my own personal books (and a few that were left in the classroom from previous teachers), except for one book of mine: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. When I got this book used from the university bookstore for a class I took on adolescent lit, it already had a section of about 30 pages – and the first 30 pages or so, to boot – that had come unglued from the binding and fell out. I still have the section with the rest of the bound book, but it obviously needs repair. (Fortunately, I have an old friend who just got her masters in library science, and I know that she can help with rebinding.)

I was also talking with my wife about the possibility of having my seniors read a novel, except that I don’t have any class sets of a “world lit” book (other than a couple of canonical British novels, but I would like a little more diversity than that). I mentioned that I’ve heard great things about Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (as well as A Thousand Splendid Suns) but that there was some controversy about the fact that it depicts a boy being raped. A discussion then ensued about being careful about content, and I remarked that Perks has a rape scene in it as well and covers some mature topics.

So the question I’m asking is this: How far should a teacher, especially a new teacher without tenure, go to limit the availability of books in their own classroom library? (I’m not even raising the question of required material at this point, just what students could have access to in the classroom either for personal reading or for reading assignments where students can choose what they read.) I’m of the mind that all material should be age-appropriate – and for that reason, I decided to leave David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day and Chuck Palahnuik’s Stranger Than Fiction at home for material that is too mature for high schoolers – but I think that students should have some freedom to read about things they’re interested in. I even think that parents should probably have the right to limit their children’s access to certain things if they have some sort of moral/religious conviction against it. (Note that I don’t find that prohibiting students from doing something, especially reading some certain type of literature, is productive at all – in fact, it will probably just make them want to read it more.)

I know of at least a handful of books in my classroom library that would fit this: Perks, John Green’s Looking for Alaska and possibly even his An Abundance of Katherines (there is a very small amount of sexual conduct involved, although it’s never graphic), and Aidan Chambers’ Postcards from No Man’s Land (which has several gay characters and a moment of confused transgenderism). The thing is, though, that I don’t want to get rid of any of these books – none of them are inappropriate for high school students (and in fact, all are intended for high school students and feature high school age characters). They are all great books (although I confess I’m not a huge fan of Perks – I find it tedious at points) that I think students would enjoy and be interested by. And even some of the classics like The Catcher in the Rye end up being challenged – where do you draw the line? Sexual references? (As if high schoolers don’t get that.) Drugs? Alcohol? (Yeah, high schoolers never know anyone who does drugs or abuses alcohol.) GLBT issues? (Or do we want to emulate Iran and simply not acknowledge our GLBT students’ existence?)

I’m pretty conflicted. Please, my faithful readers, leave me comments and let me know your thoughts.

Looking at my blog stats (which I confess I’m a bit obsessive about), I notice that many of my posts with the most traffic have been ones about student teaching. So, in an attempt to write about things that I know something about (and to keep things going through this somewhat dry phase of planning-but-not-yet-teaching), I’m planning on writing a series of entries with advice for upcoming student teachers to consider before they start this invaluable (but stressful) experience.

First up is a topic I feel very strongly about: preparing materials for classroom use.

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Given that I’m going to be teaching at a very small rural school starting in August, I thought I would post an excerpt from a guest post (although you should read the whole thing) over at So You Want to Teach?:

To summarize, I love rural schools because…

  1. They’re small and you get to know the students and their families.
  2. You see students outside the school context.
  3. You get to teach a wide selection of courses.
  4. The culture is that education is opportunity.
  5. There is lots of room out here to breathe!
  6. Classroom management is easier.
  7. Students and their parents (mostly) recognize the value of hard work.
  8. I’m quite conservative, so I’m comfortable in this conservative culture.
  9. I have quite a lot of freedom to teach as I see fit.
  10. My students are ready and willing to be pushed to their potential.

There are plenty of things on that list that I’m looking forward to, I can assure you.

This morning, I got to do some more preparation for my upcoming teaching position. Because of some scheduling rearranging at my summer job, I had the morning off, so my wife and I made the 40-minute trek over to my new school to get keys and some materials that weren’t available when I picked up the new literature textbooks (because school was still in session and the previous teacher was still using them).

I knew that there would probably be some work ahead of me, but I don’t think I really, fully understood just what kind of a situation I’ve stepped into.

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As an educator, I try my best to keep up with my professional reading: I treasure my subscription to NCTE’s English Journal (which I’m reminded is coming up for renewal in August along with my NCTE membership), and I attempt to read through each issue as I receive them. I’ve been mostly successful; I think a previous issue got lost in the mix, and I’m in the midst of reading the current issue on real-world teaching (a topic I’m very much in favor of). I also like to respond to articles that I particularly like or issues that I think need to be brought into the professional conversation, and that I haven’t done so great a job about.

I recently finished an issue of EJ (Vol. 98, No. 4) that was on an interesting subject for me: sexual orientation and gender variance. (‘Sexual orientation’ is probably a fairly self-explanatory term, but ‘gender variance’ may not be; the latter is essentially the variance in gender expression from the ‘norm,’ which could range from simple deviations from normal gender expression such as girls who are “tomboys” or boys who “act girly” or “effeminate” all the way to transexuality. The issue of ‘intersexuality’ also comes up, which is related to these two ideas.) I have been thinking about many of the articles that have been included in the issue, trying to think about them as I consider my curriculum as a first-year teacher.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking, “Are you nuts?!”

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A few days ago, I wrote about the stress of the job hunt, which has frustrated me greatly thus far (and I’m not even that far in!). Well, things are looking up: I received an E-mail today from one of the six schools I’ve applied to in the past week, asking me if I could interview tomorrow. So I have an interview at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, which I’m going to ready myself for tonight by researching the district, the school, administration, and anything else I can find.

This is of course an encouraging sign – I was worried that I would be looked over entirely because I’m a new teacher. Now I get a chance to demonstrate my love of learning, education, and helping students in person, where I think I make the best impression (I hope). Better yet, this is a high school English position in a very small rural district, which is actually what I was looking for, in part because I went to school in a small rural district (although not quite this small) and in part because I’m hoping to find a district that is low income so that I can possibly apply for teacher loan forgiveness (and this district does qualify). That’s of course not a selling point for me, but it would be nice. The position is also for sophomore, junior, and senior English, which I would absolutely love teaching (and which is the age range I’m most qualified to teach, having taught juniors and seniors this semester).

I don’t want to get my hopes up, of course; I could potentially bomb the interview or simply not be the candidate that the district wants. But I am first and foremost hopeful, and I will do whatever I can to bridge the gap.

Here’s to first impressions.

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