Enthusiasm


Spurred by my recent foray into ideas for increasing critical thinking, here’s an idea that I think combines a lot of different ideas, including critical thinking and logical inference, into a skill-building activity that engages a virtually universal student interest: music.

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Forgive me, dear reader(s), for my absence; as I noted in an earlier post, I’ve been busy selling a house (which we sold in only about 2 weeks after putting it on the market ourselves), moving into a new house (which is bigger and only one story), and preparing for where I am currently – the Teaching East Asian Literature in the High School conference at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. So far, the week has been amazing, and I have learned sooooo much about East Asian history and literature.

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I never thought that teaching would feel like Freddy Krueger.

By which I mean: It’s infecting even my dreams!

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The bell rings to signal the end of the day, and the students in my last hour class frantically escape their academic chains for the day. I sit at my computer and try to do some work, until my visitor arrives.

And arrive he does, in grand style: the door swings furiously open, and the student furiously takes a seat in the front row of my classroom.

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Post now updated with post-data – see bottom of entry.

I have often been disappointed at the reaction that some students have had to activities I’ve prepared, especially the ones I’ve been excited about. I once tried to do an activity with eighth graders that was essentially an improvisational exercise utilizing an understanding of the four types of sentences – declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, imperative – based on an improv bit that was done on the late great improv show Whose Line Is It, Anyway? where the participants are given a certain type of sentence and can only use that type of sentence to carry on a dialogue. (The Whose Line? bit focused on questions, and they also did something similar with song titles.) I thought it would be fun and it would engage current knowledge – well, it bombed, badly. Part of it was a lack of understanding of what they needed to do, and part of it (I think) was a lack of motivation to be creative.

So when I started planning an activity today, I decided to temper my enthusiasm with a little cynicism about how well it will be received.

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And it’s not from me!

Actually, I’m really excited about this opportunity. I had the idea several weeks ago to try and find guest speakers from various cultures that would align with units of literature that our senior English course is studying. The first one was virtually a no-brainer for me: looking at the literature of Latin America would provide a wealth of opportunities to find speakers with experience in these countries so that my students could have a first-hand account of these places.

So I sent an E-mail asking for potential speakers to the chair of the modern languages department of my alma mater, and (somewhat to my surprise) I received an E-mail back saying that the information had been forwarded on to someone who was interested, even naming the individual and their majors. I was ecstatic, to say the least.

Well, my excitement faded as the days passed and I had no E-mails from this individual. I contemplated sending them an E-mail but thought better of it. If they want to come, they’ll contact me, right?

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In the midst of these first-year struggles (the sort of growing pains that I think most teachers have to deal with), I have learned to look wherever I can for little celebrations. It’s sometimes difficult, but I can find them. Today’s was especially great for me.

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It has been one of those weeks for me: an utterly soul-crushing experience that has made me lose a lot of self-confidence in my abilities and what I am doing. I can’t say that the thought of giving up has entered my mind, but I have had doubts about how good a teacher I am. Not a good week at all in that regard.

But there are some things that can help make things better. For me today, it was colleagues who made me laugh. A simple thing, really, but laughter is so powerful, and even the gloomiest outlook can be softened by it.

Words I try to live by: When I can laugh, it’s a good day.

Since I last wrote here, I have encountered my first instance of outright plagiarism as a full-time teacher, one so flagrant that it was almost immediately identifiable as something other than the writing of a high school junior and which I found almost immediately with a Google search as an Apache creation myth (the assignment was for an original creation myth). At first, I was furious about it, but now I’m just disappointed and have cooled down maybe enough that I can handle the student the way he/she deserves to be handled: firm but with mercy.

I say “with mercy” because I’m providing a second opportunity for the student. If he/she will turn in an original myth by tomorrow, I’ll accept it for a significantly reduced grade (but higher than what he/she would otherwise get: a zero), and if not, I’ll give a zero and inform the principal of the violation. I was perfectly clear on my syllabus that plagiarism is not something I take lightly, and I intend to make my example here for future violations. I think I’m being more than fair.

On a totally different note, I have felt like planning has come together very loosely, and I’m still working out details for instruction this week despite having the weekly assignments up for students. (I might have set a bad precedent by doing this, although it helps keep me accountable.)

But one thing that I will change – in a very positive way – is due to something I just found. In searching for information on the 1992 movie version of Of Mice and Men (starring Gary Sinise as George Milton and John Malkovich as Lennie Smalls), I found an online streaming version of the full movie on imdb (streaming provided by that great video site, hulu) that I can use today for my students. I had wanted to show parts of this but wasn’t going to be able to get it in time; it’s available on netflix, which we use pretty much exclusively now for movies at home, but it wouldn’t have arrived quickly enough, and it isn’t available for instant watching.

And I took a phrase that has been a part of my teacher’s toolbox for quite a while – Don’t panic! from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – and printed out an image of it with Marvin, laminated it, and put it in my classroom for easy reference (and another decoration for the room).

Another week, a mixed bag – but onward I press in this journey of teaching. As long as I enjoy it, I think it’ll be just fine.

I had an epiphany today, rather suddenly. It happened to me in the middle of teaching one of my sections of sophomore English, and I have no idea where I came from. I thought,

This is my job. This – this is my job.

But it doesn’t feel like work…

It was an exhilarating feeling, just that realization that what I’m doing is my job. Not like student teaching – that was a job, but nothing that I felt was my real job, the one that would provide money to support my family. And I had a “real job” in between, so I had even forgotten to a degree what it was like getting up every day to go to a school and stand in front of a group of students and attempt to help them learn something new.

That’s my job?

Seriously, I know that teaching is tough, and I am under no pretensions that I am going to feel like this for very long. But I still think that this job, despite the effort that I do really have to put into it, is so satisfying and natural to me that even all of the work doesn’t wear me down like “real work” does. It really is a calling (just as vocations ought to be, in the spirit of the original Latin), and I am thrilled to be answering that call.

Teachers –  do you feel this way about your job? Even after the days of difficult students, trying moments, failed inspirations, and the burdens of a less-than-ideal system, do you find yourself realizing that this is a natural feeling?

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