Before I begin to write today’s post, I’d like to share some exciting news. After my first year of teaching AP Literature, all my students passed the test! This is almost never accomplished especially in a teacher’s first year of teaching the subject. It’s a testament to what an amazing English program we have and how the classical education model benefits students.
Now for today’s thoughts…
I’m often teased about how often I am not able to take off the teacher hat in the summer. I am constantly “on.” Even last night at a summer happy hour with my teacher friends, I couldn’t take it “off.” I’m already so excited about next year. In addition to the AP Literature class mentioned above, I also teach freshmen. In fact, aside from my one section of AP Lit, I have ALL freshmen. And I LOVE them. I love how they enter the school completely clueless and freaked out. You can see it on their faces the first day. Their wide eyes. Their trembling hands. The minute calculations of “Can I make it to the bathroom, my locker, and class on time?” The worry of “Am I in the right class?” (Every year someone is in the wrong class (see the “box” kid’s excerpt below.)). The perfectly packed pencil cases of the girls–this may be my favorite part because those girls believe that if you can control the school supplies, you can control anything. I love that they are freaked out, and I love how together, through the events of the year, many of them become confident, successful high schoolers.
I think that’s where many high school teachers mess up with freshmen. I think they forget that everything is new to them. In many cases, study skills, notetaking, time management, and homework in every subject matter are brand new to these fish in an larger pond than they’ve ever seen. But I love watching the growth, awareness, and change occur in one very pivotal year. As July begins, I start to plan the first month of the next school year.
Last year I had my students write a survival letter to the next group of freshmen. I’m designing a handout for my new freshmen using the advice for making it through freshman year as well as how to survive my class. I hope it will ease some tension and bring some laughter on the first day. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
“If you want to do well in this class I would advise you to TURN YOUR HOMEWORK IN ON TIME. You should also have fun.”
“To pass this class, you need to actually read the books.”
“Mrs. Smith is deathly afraid of spiders. Use them to your advantage.”
“In order to succeed in literature, you must listen to Mrs. Smith. She is always right except when she is wrong. When she is wrong, you must correct her. She also believes she is an artist, so just smile and nod when she draws.”
“Spark Notes are awesome! But Mrs. Smith is SMART, so she asks details about the books. You should actually read what is assigned or you could fail the class. Don’t get me wrong. Spark Notes are da’ bomb, but maybe you should read every once in a while.”
“I have quite a bit of advice for you from past experiences. First, if you see a giant box in the corner of the classroom, do not hide in it. This will lead to a detention and many jokes.” (Full Disclosure: This is actually one of my favorite memories from last year. This student’s actions resulted in a list that I keep in my desk of sentences/phrases I’d never thought I would say. The first one: “Jimmy, get out of that box.” I teach high school, for Pete’s sake!)
“Do not whatever you do hide in a box during class.” (The student above was mentioned in several letters.)
“Give Mrs. Smith note cards for Christmas. It’s likely you will use all hers up!”
“You’re in for a wild ride your first year as a high schooler. Trust me, it’s not like High School Musical, but it’s not like prison either.”
It’s fun to see what their “take aways” are from class or their own memorable moments. Most the the excerpts above are in good fun, but all in all, I was proud of the lessons they learned their first year of high school. They may not be able to explain the setting of Great Expectations, but below are they main lessons they learned, the themes I read over and over. Honestly, I think they’re the most important.
1. Don’t procrastinate.
3. Make friends with the people around you.
4. Learn to study.
5. Listen to deadlines.
6. Try hard.
8. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you hang out with, it only matters that you’re happy.
9. Be prepared (e.g. bring books to class).
10. Have fun.
Smart kids, if I do say so myself.