Blogging: 1; Grading: 0

I’ve got 75 essays staring me in the face; they need grades and comments by Thursday. The end of the first quarter looms.

And yet, I can’t pass up the opportunity to write for A Day in the Life — created by fellow bloggers (and math teachers) Sam Shah* and Tina C..

I’ve tried to show what it’s like to teach on this blog, but have not yet captured the fine details of a full day.

Challenge accepted!

What does a day of teaching look like for you?

*Interview with Sam forthcoming!

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On Catcher, Part One: Don’t go, Holden!

In a recent post on Slate, fellow English teacher Jessica Roake bemoans how much her students hated reading Catcher in the Rye, even though she desperately wanted them to like it. The story “is no longer a book for cool high school students,” she sniffs. “For most teenagers, an authority figure’s approval is the kiss of death.”

Having just finished Catcher with my ninth graders, I have to disagree with the idea that literature taught in school needs to be “cool” or current — and that kids won’t like what adults like.

I hated Catcher in high school, but loved it when I read it again as a teacher who’s seen her share of sarcastic, funny, and troubled teens. Many of my students engaged with the story, too.

We giggled every time Holden claims he’s “suave as hell” with the ladies, and read his “goddam”s aloud with aplomb, along with his many other “cusses” (9th grader diction, no lie).

We considered the much-discussed symbols in the story in ways that sometimes drifted into amusing absurdity:

(Possible sequels for the book: “Pitcher in the Wheat,” and “Shortstop in the Soy,” anyone?)

What the kids seemed to enjoy most, though, was discussing whether Holden was a typical teen or a mentally disturbed individual. We used a “chalk talk” (great strategy I picked up in a wonderful theater class):

Quite a few students showed surprising self-awareness and self-deprecation, noting that the typical teen experiences “Extreme Hormonal Mood Fluctuation,”  and “Aren’t most teens somewhat mentally disturbed?”

They also commented on Holden’s sexual hormones, and I got to say “horny” in class for the first time:

My favorite comment though, may have been the rational rebuttal to what all the “cool” kids are saying these days:

#YODO

(You Only Live Once, but You Only Die Once, too.)

In short: don’t underestimate teenagers’ abilities to connect with classic literature.

Grab this jet pack.

The very first comment on this blog was from a teacher who said of the opening post,”Reading it has given me a little ‘jet pack’ to get me going and excited again about what I do.”

I’ve got about a week before school starts, while many other teachers are already back in the classroom.

It’s time to power up!

Here’s a “jet pack” from Molly Rankin, an English teacher at Prosser Career Academy, a Chicago public school. Molly also leads her school’s chapter of OneGoal, a program that aims to get at-risk students with leadership potential into four-year colleges.

Ms. Rankin

This letter shows how teachers often provide vital emotional support in addition to academic instruction – and reminds me once more that student progress cannot be measured in grades or test scores alone.

Hope it gives you a small boost for your first days of school.

And please – send in more jet packs!

Ms. Rankin.

The school year is at an end and did in fact end the way I wanted it to. I know that D’s aren’t what I should be aiming for, however in the situation I’m in now, they are acceptable. I passed mostly all of my classes (even MR. F’s class) and I am very proud of myself, and I want to thank you for helping me pick my head back up. You made sure that I didn’t ever give up on school.  You came to every meeting that Ms. S and Mr. C held on behalf of my grades, and you were with me every step of the way. You made me work as hard as I could and motivated me all of the way.  You made sure that my situation did not discourage me from being at school and scolded me when I needed it. You and my mom were literally the main two people I did not want to disappoint at the end of the school year (also Mr. C). Without your help I really believe I wouldn’t have made it this far, and I’m glad even when I was screwing up you still believed in me and that’s all I needed. Thank you so much for putting time in to support me when you already have a heavy load on your hands. You just don’t know how grateful I am and this note still don’t describe how I feel, but it is a summary. Have a great summer.  Speak to you soon… BYE and thanks!