ONE YEAR WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER
Day 66, Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I realized today that I need to take more time in discussing homework assignments. Lately I've fallen into the careless habit of just announcing the assignment without any explanation or amplification -- as in, "Please read Chapter 28 tonight." That's sort of like taking students to an art museum, putting them in front of a painting, and saying, "Study this." Or, taking the kids to the edge of a forest and just telling them to "explore it." Or, tossing seeds onto bare, hardened earth and expecting grass to grow. It's a negligent and senseless way to give an assignment. I should take at least one or two minutes on each assignment to give some guidelines, suggestions, highlights, things to watch for, warnings, guideposts, or trail markings. I should "turn over the soil" a little, get the students ready, set the tone, lay a foundation. Good academic work doesn't happen instantaneously or magically. It needs to be carefully planned and prepared for by a precise and prudent teacher.
* * * * *
In a 9th grade section, Josh raised his hand and said, "I thought this chapter [in Great Expectations] was a little dull. It wasn't nearly as interesting as the previous two." Normally, I might suspect that a comment like this grew out of careless reading, but not in this case. Josh went on to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the chapter, and it became clear to me that his comment was actually born of genuine perspicacity. The chapter is comparatively dull, even to an experienced Dickens reader. Josh had read the chapter with care and had drawn a reasonable conclusion -- another indication of his progress as a serious reader.
* * * * *
This morning in advisory we got to talking about the pressure the play cast was feeling this week, and before a few minutes had passed, Serena put her head down on the table and started sobbing. All she could manage to say through her tears was, "I've just got so much to do." We did our best to comfort her, and I think she felt a little better by the time she left for class, but those heartrending few moments brought home to me the power of the pressure we sometimes put on our students.