The Late-Summer, Low-Humidity, Rapidly-Approaching-Fall Daze
Posted on July 26, 2013
So . . . YAY! I have procured a fulltime, bonafide, virtually ideal teaching position! By starting this entry with good news, then segueing into a pseudo-apology for my lack of attention to this blog (all the while implying that the reasons for my absence were understandable and even laudable, given that I was engaged in an epic job search which consumed my every waking moment), I hope to deflect, pacify, and ameliorate any harsh feelings that you, the casual–and perhaps imaginary–reader, might have toward me. So, sorry for not writing. But YAY!
I will be teaching 11th and 12th grade English next year at a small, co-ed Catholic school. Terror, excitement, and a deep-seated fear of proving inadequate sum up my emotional state. (Even now, my English teacher brain thinks I should have written “inadequacy” instead of “proving inadequate”). American AND British literature will be my purview. That is a lot of stuff to cover, think about, wrestle with, study, and profess knowledge of. But I’ll try. I’ve already come up with some study guides and (duh-duh-dah) reading quizzes for the novels Huckleberry Finn and My Antonia. And I’ve designed a sort of snazzy class website (which you can find HERE). But I still feel tragically unprepared. Should I start out with Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales for British Literature? Should I focus heavily on the historical context of the pieces we read, or should I attempt to connect them to modern phenomena to inspire critical thought. Both? I don’t know. But soon I will be in a position where people will EXPECT me to know things. And that’s somewhat intimidating.
I know I know things. You probably know I know things. But I don’t think “knowing things” is the most important thing about teaching. Which is good, because I can certainly work on that aspect of my education. Dates, facts, and “cocktail party trivia” were never my strong suit. I can probably out-divergently think a lot of people, but I won’t win a round of Literary Jeopardy (at least not yet). Give me a few years of being in the teaching trenches and I’ll probably do you proud in that department.
Anyone have any good ideas on how I can introduce myself/my class on the very first day? I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and it seems the best way to do it would be to take the Edward R. Murrow approach and present a mini-This I Believe speech. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, see THIS website. I’m hoping the format will allow for a good balance of both personal philosophy and nuts-and-bolts specifics about the class. Ideally, it will also serve as a good foundational example for how sharing and discussion will take place in my classroom.
So, in the sprit of “let’s-do-it-ness,” I’d like to take this time and space to compose the This I Believe speech I’ll be sharing with my students on the first day of school.
This I Believe
I believe that education can be fun. Scratch that. I believe that education MUST be fun. Addendum. I believe that in this classroom, education MUST and WILL be fun. Fine print: fun–specifically the experience of fun–being a subjective term, the teacher makes no promises, guarantees, nor binding assertions that individual students’ experiences of fun will be uniform, in surplus/deficit, remarkable relative to similar classroom experiences facilitated by different teachers, nor noteworthy in quality/quantity.
Article 1: Conditions for a Successful Classroom Experience
Section A: Abandon Your Apathy
At this stage in your life everything is about YOUR experience. And that is as it should be. I’m not going to chide you for thinking selfishly, self-righteously, or egotistically. You need to be full of yourself because you are forming yourself, and you need to assert an identity. I get it. That said, don’t use the “this is boring” excuse for not doing work. Just because something isn’t directly relevant to your sphere of existence does not mean that it is undeserving of your attention. I will try to make old things exciting, hip, and new, but you gotta meet me halfway. Old stuff is cool! The world is cool! Recognize.
Section B: Lighten Up, Darken Down
I was trying to think of the opposite of lighten up, so darken down seemed appropriate (if a little depressing). Really, what I am trying to say is this: you’ve probably heard the quote, “Don’t take life too seriously–you’ll never make it out alive” (alternately attributed to the movie Van Wilder and the writer Elbert Hubbard). It’s true! But also false. Life and learning are fun, but they require sustained effort. Whistle while you work. Enjoy the whistling, but more importantly, learn to love the work.
Article 2: Safe Assumptions
Section A: You Don’t Know Squat
You probably think you know a lot of things, and you do! But really, you dont. As compared to you, I know approximately a half-percent more about .000000013% of humanity’s total knowledge. Which isn’t really that impressive. This is to say that I am no august sage with profound storehouses of wisdom. Rather, I am, like you, a co-journeyer on this fantastic trip toward knowledge. Let’s help each other out and maybe build something worthwhile on our way.
Section B: I Am Invested in Your Success
When you succeed, I succeed. When you fail, I consider it (to a greater or lesser degree) a personal failure. Therefore, I will neither take relish nor derive satisfaction from giving you a low grade. I would like to give everyone an A. And I will give everyone an A. If everyone earns an A. So earn those A’s!
Article 3: The One Where Mr. Darby Pre-Apologizes
I am new at this. Consequently, I am certain that I will fail (sometimes spectacularly) a number of times as your teacher. I would like to Pre-Apology to you now. As my inaugural class, you are somewhat like guinea pigs in a weird educational experiment. As I become a more experienced teacher, I feel confident that I will improve my technique and limit my bumblings. But, as of now, I am technique-less and bumble-prone. I ask, humbly, for your occasional grace.
This I believe and know to be true: I am really excited to be your teacher. I can’t wait to read literature with you. I’ve pre-apologized, so now it’s time to get pre-excited. Let’s get pre-excited!