Monday, February 1, 2010

An English Teacher's Lament

I began re-working on one of my projects last night while Big Guy played his Valentine's day gift.  It was a good gift, apparently.  I told him I was glad that my gift giving streak was still in effect.  He's been playing the game pretty much non-stop since Friday.  In the meantime, I was able to work on my blog, work on class prep, and prepare for the week ahead.  My class this month is about to have a change from classes in previous months, namely a vocab section. 

I work hard on class prep and doing what I think will best help the students.  I must admit, though, finding things that will improve their ability to write is difficult since the most vocal complain that they don't understand why they must know how to write nor do they wish to learn.  For someone like me, who adores English and the twists and turns it takes, it is horribly depressing and demoralizing. 

It is unfortunate that I have not yet had a student come to my class and say: "I can't wait!  I love English/Writing/Literature."  It is also not surprising.  Schools don't stress the importance of the ability to write properly and do not encourage students to do so.  When the kids were visiting, I was perpetually amazed and dismayed at how little the schools stressed proper style and grammar.  It was more that the teachers were relieved if the students spelled approximately half of the words correctly.  One of the most horrifying things I discovered about the school in our area, and a driving force behind my desire NOT to send Little Guy into this system, was the painful discovery that the high school students were allowed to write papers in text speech.  Of course, then they end up in my classroom, in a college level basics class.

And I am left with disenchanted students who are in school because they have no place left to go and want to get college over with quickly so they can get a better job.  I do what I can to make the subject matter interesting for them, but a great deal of the work has to be done by them.  One thing I am going to start mentioning on the first day of class is that their success depends almost entirely on them.  If they choose to come and not work, not be engaged with the material, not communicate with the class, then they will not pass.  If they come to class, ready to talk, work, ask questions, and learn, they will likely pass not only this class, but also the other English classes with flying colors.  Once they gain a comprehension of English, it will make their major classes easier as well as give them access to better jobs. 

Of course, then the question becomes, how do you engage and encourage students who hate the subject matter? In this particular class, I put together powerpoint presentations to make the discussion slightly less snooze-worthy.  I also have them watch Schoolhouse Rock.  The catchy music and the songs that get stuck in their heads seems to actually make a difference.  I was unable to use both those tricks last month and I noticed a big difference in the attitude of the students towards the subject.  Amusingly, after talking with a couple of other teachers about the Schoolhouse Rock trick, it's become a "done thing" now.  I'm glad that others are seeing it works too, I just wish I could get some recognition for the idea.  LOL

In the end, though, I love my subject matter and I am passionate about it.  I think that has affected more students then their dislike of the subject.  I still have students coming up to me months later asking if I will be teaching a particular level of class next month.  They seem to have left my class with an enjoyment and, hopefully, an appreciation of their language.

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