Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Middle of the night, thinking of Antigone and do-overs.

Isn't it amazing that we aren't locked in to our mistakes? To our ill-conceived ideas? To things we forgot or could have done better?

And yet... it occurs to me that as a teacher, not one kid experiences a "throw-away" year, though I have been looking at this year-- the first year in public school-- as that in some ways. I spent too much time on this thing and not enough on that. Or I should have sped up this one piece of literature for the sake of getting to another one. Or I should have concentrated on this element of English as opposed to another.... I am stymied by the looming monster of Standardized Testing every time I turn around and I wonder how some teachers feel free to "specialize." I'm crappy at teaching grammar, but it's an unavoidable evil and I have avoided it better than most. I have conquered it, defeated it, wrestled it to the ground and told it to shut its stupid mouth. Grammar is not the boss of me.

But my kids need it desperately, and I wonder about my own experience. Caroline remembers all of her English teachers from high school and everything they did-- and, for the most part, we had the same teachers (though I was, what, four years ahead of her?). But I don't remember any of it. Today, she cocked her head to the side when I acknowledged having Mrs. Huey, but no recollection at all of having read The Pigman. All I remember is hating A Tale of Two Cities (shhh... don't tell anyone. Cardinal sin admission for an English teacher) and where I was sitting. Don't get me wrong: Mrs. Huey was one of the sweetest ladies I ever met and I liked her a lot. I was just bored out of my mind in English. I told Caroline today that the academic classes I really remember-- that is, remember doing things specifically-- were Latin, Civics, doing writing journals for Ellington and... maybe a Creative Writing class with Cope. I LOVED my English teachers personally, but the major connection I made in classes was with the teachers and other students. Mrs. Krueck had something about her...when I walked into her classroom I felt that I was on my own turf, for some reason. Felt accepted and liked and even a little bit in cahoots with her. Same with Korb for some reason, even though he irritated the mess out of me. There was just something cool and smart about him and his gigantic medallions and black turtle necks and never-ending battle with the teacher next door (they would catch flies and release them into each other's rooms).

I guess what I learned from them was that teaching was a one-man show, with all of the attention on you all day. And that teachers could have all different personalities. Quirks. They stood out as completely different from everyone I had ever known. It was about them more than about the subjects they taught. I'm glad I wasn't drawn to a single math or science teacher or I would really, really be suffering from an inferiority complex, trying to teach math or science somewhere and hating it. Because I suck at math and science.

Anyway, I want to try to make Antigone happen for one of my classes and it's only occurring to me at nearly 1:30 am and it is occurring to me that it will be good to have a summer to plan. If I'll do it and not just talk about it. I'm looking at next year as a clean slate; a fantastic re-do; a time to fix what I messed up on this year-- and my prayer for the guinea pigs currently taking up space in my room is that they would benefit from the things I did manage to teach them. That they would be able to use those tools-- an increased ability to think critically in classroom conversation, increased comprehension through discussion, a working understanding of theme and images and motifs and symbolism, the sound of their own voices in the classroom over that of a lecturer, etc.

I want to figure out how to do what my teachers did with me, what I did while working with youth in ministry, and what happened in the studio while also teaching those things that are vital to their test scores. I want to bring art and interest and color to the classroom while also helping them to want to reach for what they see. I tried it this year and will keep trying for years to come, I suppose. Every year a sort of do-over. A do-oeuvre.

Alright. Time for bed. Hope my kids went to bed hours ago....


kristin.mccown said...

I felt the same way about my first year teaching, but amazingly when the standardized test results came back my kids did pretty good! I'm sure you are a great teacher and that your kids learned a ton!

Samantha said...

thanks for the encouragement kristin!! their scores on the last test were pretty good-- it's the EOCT that's freaking me out... aigh!! if we'd had these things when i was in school...i'd STILL BE THERE!!! you had them, didn't you? sigh. but thanks for the kind words-- from your lips to God's ears!! :)