D-Day, the trial by fire. I was sorely tested, but I think I survived. And learned something. Hour 1 was quite unexpected and wild. Not only did they refuse to acknowledge me as their teacher ("You're not our teacher, Mrs. Korman is our teacher") they actually went on strike. Besides this, the mother of one of the most troublesome boys decided to visit today and watch her son in action. So, we have me on Day 1 with my class of ninth graders, hostile, rebellious, and cantankerous with a mother watching me. It went as well as it could, I suppose, which wasn't very good. But we lived and got better as the day wore on. Mrs. Concern whispered to me to ask if she could talk to her sulky and sullen son who was slouching in his chair and not participating in any way. She walked over, pulled his comb out of his hand, and sat down. I went on questioning them and they went on staring and she asked again if she could talk to him, at which point they went out in the hall and never returned. I had them do their speech about a classmate, and they did it, though they resented it greatly. But I'm glad we did it as it will help me learn who they are, and help them understand that I mean what I say.
Hour 2, when faced with the same assignment, responded much better. They answered my questions about what makes a good school and though they were not profound or especially thoughtful, but they at least worked with me. They did their speeches with a little more gusto. We discussed it later and she reiterated that first hour has consistently overwhelmed her they are recalcitrant to the point of mule like stubbornness. Hour 2 is willing. Hour 1 is unhappy. And they are eager to share their unhappiness.
Hour 3 had 5 students today, the usual 4 and the fellow who was here the other day and then didn't return. I hope they come consistently, as the class has much better dynamics. They did a good job on discussing what makes a good school and they did a good job introducing their peers. With 12 kids we finished 10 minutes early, with 5 we didn't finish at all. I hate to admit it on day 1 but it is clear that the same teacher and the same method can yield results ranging from terrible to terrific based upon the willingness of students. Even the best dentist cannot pull a tooth if the patient refuses to open his mouth.
Hour 5 was somewhat deranged, but did a fairly good job. Mrs. Korman brought the two kids from her class (1 whom I suspect we'll never see again) and we had a two part lesson. I wrote the words "fable" and "moral" on the board, and we attacked them. What did they mean? How were they different? Are there other similar words that are part of our vocabulary (certainly weren't part of theirs, maxim,cliche and theme were all unknown)? So we went through this with lots of time out to watch while one smug little boy wadded paper into balls, lots of time to try and get a couple of talkative and spunky kids back with us.
We then read about 5 fables from Aesop, with a cursory glance at oral tradition and discussion of what a moral is. They knew some of the stories from cartoons but had no knowledge of the fables or ideas behind them, and well-worn phrases such as "sour grapes" or "slow and steady sometimes wins the race" were new. Don't assume anything! We moved from there to bigger quest ions about what the theme of a story is. And we then went to a poem by Langston Hughes, a rather virulent and polemical poem called "Ku Klux", and spent the rest of the time trying to get to the theme of this. It took a while but we did get to the main themes. It is interesting that this class can do the work but they make me struggle like mad. "It's boring" says the crowd. "I don't care about this stuff." Of course that is the challenge to make them care. Or at least some of them. I hope that we can build on what we've done and get into a new world of achievement. Optimism still.
The last hour of 11th graders worked on Langston Hughes as well, nice to bring Black History in. We read the brief biographical piece from the text (aloud which is what they wanted, though 1 girl read the whole thing). I'm not fond of biography as a means of literary criticism, but part of what we're attempting to indoctrinate is working in the system. And Hughes is a good example (at least reading the stuff in the book makes him appear that way). So we read several poems aloud and then discussed the aspects of poetry (rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration etc) and theme. We managed to get into theme fairly well and get at what the poem is "about". I have no desire to fiddle with the externals. I hope Mr. Blank doesn't either. In the middle of this we did the Mr. Clark autobiography. I had decided to skip it with these kids since none of the other classes had been particularly interested. Yet they were legitimately wondering about college and why I'm here and all those goodies. There is, of course, the clear desire on the part of students to avoid work and they d rather talk than perform (especially when they can flatter and manipulate the teacher while doing it). All in all, a successful day. Objectives met and kids not exasperated and annoyed. The hard thing about all this is that English is not discrete but continuous and it's hard to jump into someone else's stream and also to break that stream into pieces that can be taught. This is the challenge that all teachers, especially English teachers, face