As I finish one chapter in my life and begin a new one, I feel this is the perfect opening to my website. I will no longer be a high school English teacher as of next week, and this thought truly saddens me. Of course, I have chosen this to pursue my writing career along with the hopes of being a better wife and, one day, a mother. But, being a high school English teacher was truly an experience of a lifetime. I have never been and doubt I ever will be one of those people who wish they could relive high school, but being in that situation through the eyes of a teacher taught me more about myself and teenagers, than I think I ever taught them. Even on my worst of days, I could always count on my students to make me smile or laugh or see things differently. I am so grateful for each and every one of them and am truly honored to have been a part of their lives. My students are what I will miss the most.
What Teaching Taught Me:
· Sometimes Loud is too loud
I am not the type to raise my voice out of anger. In fact, I rarely get truly angry especially towards my students. That does not mean I do not talk loud, because I do. This comes from my loud Spanish family where we all try to talk over each other; thus, speaking louder and louder. For outsiders, like my husband, we have earplugs readily available, and this only lowers our voices to the wearer.
Anyway, we were reading, I believe it was from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, when Curley was trying to beat up poor Lennie. I love to act out the stories we read because it helps to visualize. So, I got really into it, and I guess it got a little loud. Because, the class that came in after came in very slowly and hesitantly. Not a word was spoken. They took out their books and were ready when the bell rang. I inquired what was up because this was definitely uncharacteristic of this class. One brave student answered, “We heard you yelling down the hall that you were gonna beat up someone in your last class.” So, note watch your voice level.
· Establishing a Routine provides Refuge
I don’t like having to repeat myself, so from the beginning I establish specific ways to do something. It takes a little repeating in the beginning, but students get the hang of it quickly, and it makes the rest of the year smooth.
My students have gotten into the habit of reading what’s on my board as they walk into class to know what they have to do to be ready for class. Many times when we are reading the board states: Please put down your belongings and grab your books. Page ---. (This is wonderful for any teachers reading this because they all have their books, have their books open, and ready to go without uttering a word.) So, one day, I begin teaching grammar and I am giving them notes and examples. I realize the class is flipping through the book and completely lost. I, clueless, ask, “Why do you have your books? We are doing grammar. You should have your grammar packets out?” A student points at the board, “It says to get your books on the board. We thought you were teaching us from the book.” Doh! A different grade level was the class before theirs, and I didn’t erase the board. It taught me to put English I and English II next to the directions.
· “Fail” does not mean a bad grade in a class
With my back to a student, I hear another student saying to that one, “You fail,” and the class was cracking up. I whip around to see which student they were to referring to and turn back to lecture, “[Student’s name] is not failing my class. You cannot discuss people’s grades.” The poor student blushing replies, “I wasn’t talking about their grades. He went to sit down and missed the desk…He failed.” Add to teenager dictionary, fail means mess up.
· “Legit” does not mean honest and truthful
At the beginning of the year, the students often laugh or are in amazement at my maiden name being Dragon. This particular time, a student comments, “What?!? That is legit.” I, only knowing one meaning of the word, respond, “Seriously, that is the truth. Dragon is my maiden name.” Then, I get the explanation. “No, legit means something really cool like ‘That new XBOX game is legit.” So, I guess cool is just not cool to say anymore. Add to teenager dictionary, legit means Way Cool.
· “Epic” is not the long, narrative poem, such as the disastrous journey that Odysseus ventured in The Odyssey.
I am only 28 years old, but to teenagers that is like 48, and already I see the diction difference. Yet again, I flop. Someone says, “That is epic.” I blindly respond, “No, Night (by Elie Wiesel) is not a poem. The epic we will be reading is The Odyssey, but that will be next semester.” Looking around the room, blank expressions returned my gaze. With so much patience for me, they explain, “Epic means really big or something you won’t forget like ‘That was an Epic fail.” or “That rumor is epic.’ Add to teenager dictionary, epic means huge or memorable.
· Crawling on the floor = Complete Student Attention
In English I, one of the first stories we read is “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty. As there are very few stories, I don’t like, this one is especially fun to read. The way the sniper gets shot in the arm, but goes on to trick the enemy sniper and eventually defeat that sniper is full of imagery in the story. Naturally, it requires acting it out. I demonstrate pretty much the whole story as we reread the words O’Flaherty illustrates so beautifully. This requires me getting on the floor, demonstrating his broken arm (which gets the girls to cover their mouths and show faces of disgust), then crawling on my stomach over to the table which is perfect for the wall of the building to peer over to act out the sniper’s trick. Of course, I had all eyes on me especially to see a teacher crawl on the floor, but you never truly know if they are getting what you are trying to say.
Well, at Parent-Teacher Night, I had a parent come up to me to congratulate me. The parent was not successful at getting her child to read, and the child had read that story to every one of his family members and acted it out as he read. Of course, the child did not forget to mention to every family member that his teacher did this same thing in class. *Blush*
***Once again, to all my students, thank you for these wonderful memories and so many others, and I wish you all the best in the future.