Happy Birthday to Eleanor Roosevelt, Boss Lady and Badass Teacher!

Eleanor Roosevelt was an awesome woman. Though she was born into wealth and privilege, she fought tirelessly for the rights of everyday people. She also encouraged women to become “political bosses” – yes – “women bosses who [could] talk as equals” and “play the [political] game as men do.”

eleanor-roosevelt1

In fact, “the Lady” wielded much more political and personal power than history has given her credit for. According to Blanche Wiesen Cook (author of the twovolume ER biography I’m reading), ER essentially ran a parallel administration during FDR’s twelve-year presidency. Whenever she disagreed with his administration’s treatment of women, the poor, African Americans and other marginalized groups — which was quite often —  she would openly oppose her husband in public speeches, newspaper articles and other efforts to effect the changes she wanted.

As much as ER loved the political game, she was just as passionate about education. She had loved being a student, and loved being a teacher of history, literature and public affairs at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City.

In honor of what would have been her 129th birthday today, here are 5 things that made Eleanor Roosevelt an excellent educator:

1. She championed women’s education in word and deed.

In a 1930 essay for Redbook, and in many other publications thereafter, ER encouraged women to educate themselves in order to gain real political power. They had to “take the pains to study history, economics, political methods [and] get out among human beings.”

And she was confident in the social change that would come as a result: “In my youth I knew women who hid their college degrees as if they were one of the seven deadly sins. But all that is passing, and so will pass many other prejudices that have their origin in the ancient tradition that women are a by-product of creation.”

ER put her beliefs into practice when she bought the Todhunter School for Girls at 66 East 80th Street in 1927. There, she served as vice principal, teacher and participated in all aspects of school life – including writing for school magazines and newsletters, raising money and seeking prospective students.

Todhunter School

2. She was a tough teacher who wanted her students to be informed, critical and active citizens.

ER held her students accountable for their work, and felt disappointed when they performed poorly. She believed that “the girls will have to take certain hurdles in life and that hurdles in school are an important preparation.” ER assigned research projects to promote critical thinking, wrote exams to assess her students’ political literacy (sample question: “Do you know of any way in which the Government protects women and children?”), and organized school trips to courthouses and tenements so her girls (who all came from privileged backgrounds as well) could learn about and be inspired to improve their communities.

She believed that good teaching began with students’ own interests, and that lifelong learning was imperative, saying often: “Education only ends with death.”

3. She loved her job, worked hard at it, and it paid off.

ER described teaching as the “one thing that belongs to me” and also said, “I like it better than anything else I do.”

On her commutes to and from New York’s Grand Central Station, she would grade papers, and read “voraciously” to prepare for the week’s lessons and lectures.

Blanche Wiesen Cook calls ER’s success as a teacher “rapid” and “intense.” Student Patricia Vaill said, “I never forgot a damn thing she ever taught me.”

todhunter1

ER (in dark coat) with Todhunter students and principal Marion Dickerman (third from left)

4. As much as she could, ER remained a dedicated teacher despite FDR’s growing political career.

Throughout FDR’s two terms as governor of New York, from 1929 to 1932, ER made weekly train trips from Albany to Todhunter rather than give up her teaching duties. At the time, this refusal to give up her work was rather unusual for a political wife – and unusual, actually, for any wife of a financially secure husband.

ER juggled teaching, family and business engagements. After teaching all morning, she would attend political events in the evening. On Wednesdays, she returned to Albany and to her roles as First Lady of New York and mother to five children.

Only when FDR was elected President in 1933 did ER finally, reluctantly, leave her teaching career.

eleanor_roosevelt_alt

5. She never forgot the teacher who inspired her.

ER modeled her teaching on Marie Souvestre, a radical, feminist educator and founder of Allenswood, the school Eleanor attended from ages 15 to 18.

Roosevelt admired Souvestre’s brilliant mind, formidable presence and commitment to creativity and intellectual rigor. ER recalled being “expected to do a good deal of independent reading and research” and working hard on her papers though she had seen Souvestre “take a girl’s paper and tear it in half in her disgust and anger at poor or shoddy work.”

Allenswood was where the adolescent Eleanor began to express her opinions, feel confident in her abilities and take on leadership roles. “For the first time in all my life all my fears left me,” she said.

ER's Allenswood school portrait

ER at 15

Souvestre and Roosevelt became lifelong friends.

After Souvestre’s death in 1905, ER kept her beloved teacher’s picture on her desk, and carried her teacher’s letters with her always.

souvestre

Marie Souvestre, also a badass teacher

Today also happens to be the International Day of the Girl. What a perfect pairing of women’s education advocates!

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15 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself on the First Days of School

Whether you’ve been back for a few weeks, or just a day or two — you did it!

You made it out of bed at an ungodly hour, rocked a fresh first-day outfit, and presented your Teacher Self to a new crop of kids.

You’re taking attendance, writing those first parent e-mails, planning lessons, doing lunch duty, attending meetings, assigning first homeworks, and collecting first homeworks.

Maybe you’re teaching a brand-new course this year, or taking on a new responsibility as coach or advisor, too.

Through all of this, you’re delivering instruction to multiple groups of differently abled, very distractible kids.

So, please remember — it’s OK if…

1. You don’t know most of your students’ names yet.

2. It takes you a full five minutes to remember old students’ names when they say hello in the hallway.

namesticker

It’ll come to me…

3. Your desk is already a mess of papers.

This week's grading

100% authentic piles of grading

4. You didn’t have time to make that perfect bulletin board / seating chart / welcome letter like you’d planned to do.

marvelous-multiplication-bulletin-board

I’ve never made a bulletin board this pretty. Ever.

5. You already had to change a lesson because the copier was jammed or occupied.

jammedcopier

Sad sight for sore eyes

6. You already had to change a lesson because the computer / projector / DVD player / TV / internet didn’t work.

test colors TV

“Hey, who here is good at TV stuff?”

7. You forgot to turn off your phone during class.

8. You forgot to go to the bathroom, even when you had a minute.

Imagine going to the bathroom when you need to...

Should’ve gone during prep!

9.  Your perfect “first days” lesson was not the raging success you’d envisioned.

10. You haven’t had time to catch up properly with your colleagues because of all the work that needs to be done.

11. You’re already grading or playing on your phone during the first full faculty meeting. (Do as I say, not as I do…)

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Official story: teachers don’t have friends or use Facebook.

12. Your second-day outfit was not as polished as your first-day outfit. (Soon, you’ll be proud to have made it to school with matching socks!)

13.  You didn’t have time to make lunch and/or dinner.

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

School lunch it is…

14. You didn’t have time to make that doctor’s appointment.

15. You’re already falling asleep on the couch when you get home!

It's OK to be dog-tired!

It’s OK to be dog-tired!

Remember, teachers do heroic things, but you’re still human!

Rinse and repeat if you’re a first-year teacher.

Also: what would you add to this list?

Summer send-off for those who teach

Happy Friday and happy summer! Celebrate the occasion with me by sending your thank-you letters to teachers.

Let’s give those teachers who still have a few days of school left (I’m looking at you, New York metro area) a boost, too.

Maybe you received a handwritten note from a student on the last day of school that made you smile and tear up a bit. Maybe this letter reaffirmed why you’ve worked so hard this year.

Maybe you’re the student who wrote that note by hand to express your gratitude for how much you’ve discovered this year because of that one teacher.

For inspiration, here are the letters I shared last year:

Sweet ‘Refreshment’

‘A little praise’ goes a long way

The College Board can’t touch this.

Outstanding special effects

Grab this jet pack.

And, to get the ball rolling, here’s a letter I saved from a few years back. Though it’s not handwritten, I still appreciate its sincerity, and the way this quiet student spoke to me through writing. Having been a quiet student myself, I can understand how not speaking does not necessarily mean students are not engaged or thinking.

thankyouIS (1)

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Since the last post about Rose’s Life After Teaching,  Ellie Rubinstein’s video resignation from teaching went viral. In the video, Rubinstein is visibly distraught to leave what she loves.

 It hasn’t been a clean break for Rose, either. Though her current office job is much more stable than her past life as a high school biology teacher, she considers what’s lost by leaving education in today’s post.

Why I miss teaching:

1. I miss crafting lessons.

Everywhere I went — the supermarket, vacation, an art museum, you name it — I was always on the lookout for “treasure” – things I could use to make learning biology more exciting for my students.

While visiting the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida, for example, I was so inspired by the aquarium’s work with Winter, the injured dolphin later featured in the movie, Dolphin Tale, that I spent an hour talking with representatives there about the importance and impact of educational materials (which they didn’t have). And, even though I was on vacation, I loved thinking about all the lessons I could generate from this experience.

Winter the dolphin

Winter the dolphin

In addition to planning for my students, I also miss sharing my lessons with colleagues. I miss talking to people who are as passionate about teaching science as I am. I miss working with them to improve my lessons, to improve our school, and to improve the education system.

2. I miss the students (most of them).

I miss talking with the students, getting to know them, and helping them learn a subject that I love. As cheesy as it may sound, students’ “aha” moments are like shooting stars. If you aren’t looking at the right time, at the right student, you might miss them. And if you catch one, it’s like nothing else.

I miss the good, unexpected moments, too — like when the class shares a joke, students thank you for your help, or say that your teaching inspired them.

I even miss the (seemingly) off-topic discussions.

One time, we were studying types of muscles and a student, very sheepishly, asked what muscles cause “nipple-itis”.   After we all laughed, I used that comment as a springboard to discuss involuntary muscles with the class.

involuntary muscles

3. I miss the “nobility” of teaching.

Even though society has mixed feelings about teachers (having tenure, pensions, and so on), most people can accept that a teacher’s life is devoted to a noble purpose.

At the end of forty years in the work force, teachers can reflect on all the students they educated.  They were “in the trenches” helping to improve society.

super_teacher

With my cubicle job, in an abstract, roundabout kind of way, I help society too, but will I be proud of my life’s work in forty years?

Kind of…but I’m not sure “kind of” is enough.  It will be a challenge to find another profession that will give me the sense of purpose that teaching did.

4. Guilt, judgment and second thoughts

I sometimes feel guilty for leaving teaching. I feel like I gave up on the future students I will never have. I gave up on the “good fight” of improving America’s education system.

When people find out that I’m a former teacher, some understand why I left. Others judge me like I’m a monster, saying, “How could you give up a life devoted to teaching children?”

Or, they just think I’m stupid for giving up all those “great benefits”.

I wonder if, one day, teaching will be a great job for me again. What if the American education system is reformed? What if society thinks that those who educate children should be treated like educated professionals and be paid a living salary? What if I have children and want to spend summers and holidays with them? What if…?

Like I said before, teaching was like a bad boyfriend: I loved it, but too many times it made me cry. After I took the stress of teaching out of my life, my physical and mental health vastly improved.

When I reflect on it, my brain tells me I made the right decision, but my heart still hurts a little. Maybe it always will.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part One: Four Reasons Why I’m Better Off

Life After Teaching, Part Three: Yup, I Joined the Club.

Life After Teaching, Part Four: Five Little Things I Look Forward to at My Desk Job

Life After Teaching, Part Five: Why I Don’t Need Summers Off Anymore

Life After Teaching, Part Six: Five Things I Learned in Year Two

Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Life After Teaching, Part One: Four Reasons Why I’m Better Off

Last month, essays like Randy Turner’s “A Warning to Young People,” and Christine McCartney’s Letter of Resolution, gave voice to teachers who have decided to quit the profession, and those who’ve committed to stay despite their shared frustrations, including standardized testing, merit pay, and Common Core Standards.

After four years as a high school biology teacher, Rose left her job, and the education field, in 2011. In today’s post, she reflects on the joys (yes, the joys) of leaving teaching.

Starting a new job is like starting a new relationship.  In the beginning, you’re just getting to know each other, and as time goes on, you decide if you’ll go long term. Sometimes, you realize you love your partner, but the relationship just isn’t healthy.

This is what happened to me with teaching: though our relationship had wonderful moments, I became increasingly unhappy, and decided to end it.

It’s been two school years since I’ve had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of teaching teenagers. I now work in a cubicle pushing papers and have a much more stable relationship with my job.

Why I’m glad I left teaching:

1.  The simple pleasures of a desk job.

In the morning, the office and my cubicle are quiet and calm. I can ease into my day by enjoying a cup of tea while I go through emails. I use the bathroom whenever I want. I slowly eat my lunch. Full adult conversations are the norm!  This goes for thoughts as well. I can think through a problem and be confident about the decision without being interrupted fifteen times by students, colleagues, or P.A. announcements.

Several health problems went away, like indigestion (from scarfing my lunch before giving a make-up test during my lunch break), foot pain (Goodbye, Dr. Scholls!), and headaches (Yes, I had chronic tension headaches). I’ve also had fewer colds and flus (I come in contact with 30 office workers in a day instead of over 100 students and faculty). I call these simple pleasures because, while they are not earth-shattering changes, they still make my day easier.

Imagine going to the bathroom when you need to...

2. I got myself back.

Teaching takes a lot of physical and mental energy. I was drained when I got home. I didn’t have time for hobbies, friends, or anything else except grading at night.  Now, at 5 o’clock, my workday ends when I leave my cubicle…truly. I don’t think about it until the next morning when I get to work. After work, I read a book, cook dinner, and spend time with my family. I even have time and energy to exercise and take an art class!

Pottery class after work, anyone?

3. A weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I can be myself in public, in private, and at work.

As a teacher, I felt like I had to project this “perfect teacher” persona. I had to be the epitome of calm, conservative moral behavior. I felt like I could not go out to a restaurant, have an alcoholic beverage or sneak a kiss from my partner without worrying if a student or parent saw me.  Society puts this tremendous pressure on teachers as if their every decision, act, and word can inspire or devastate students.  If a student failed, it was the teacher’s fault. If the student succeeded, then it was the achievement of the student alone. Teachers shoulder all the responsibility, but get little recognition for their students’ achievement. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with this pressure anymore.

No more Ms. Perfect

No more Ms. Perfect…

4. My frustration with the American education system dissipated.

I entered teaching as a typical new teacher: bright-eyed, idealistic, and ready to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. And then the reality of teaching slowly, but surely, squeezed the passion out of me. When I tried to shield my students from the problems that plague the system, it seemed useless. It became hard to face the students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and myself knowing all the problems with the education system and feeling not only powerless to solve them, but forced to contribute to them (I’m looking at you, standardized testing).

I felt like a teenager who just got a summer job at her favorite fast food restaurant.  Instead of eating what I loved every day, I never ate it again after I saw how it was prepared.   So when I left teaching, I stopped struggling with the gap between what I wanted teaching to be, and what it actually was. My anger towards the system has dissipated, but a small bit of frustration will always be there because I still care about students.

The calm after leaving teaching

Former teachers, what have you gained from resigning or retiring from the classroom? How did leaving help you reflect?

What would make teaching a sustainable job for more people?

FOLLOW-UP: Read my one-year reflection on this post.

Related

Life After Teaching, Part Two: Four Reasons Why I Miss Teaching

Life After Teaching, Part Three: Yup, I Joined the Club.

Life After Teaching, Part Four: Five Little Things I Look Forward to at My Desk Job

Life After Teaching, Part Five: Why I Don’t Need Summers Off Anymore

Life After Teaching, Part Six: Five Things I Learned in Year Two

Life After Teaching, Part Seven: Five (More) Things I Learned in Year Two

Everything he needs to know, he learned in 4T.

It’s been more than two months since my last post! To help make up for that gap, here’s a story so good, I think it’s movie material…

Almost 40 years later, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein still remembers the feeling of community in “4T,” Paul Tamburello’s fourth grade class at Pierce School in Brookline, Massachusetts. “He knew all of us, and had high expectations for us,” Jeff says. “He was really good about letting us know that he saw what we were doing, whether it was doing well or misbehaving.”

Jeff (right) learns to use chopsticks in 4T.
photo credit: Paul Tamburello

Though he graduated from 4T in 1974, Jeff kept coming back to visit his old teacher, even throughout high school and college.  During these visits, Jeff recalls, “He would always say, ‘What do you remember from 4T?’ Then he would use that information to think about how to approach the class.” This commitment to continual improvement inspired Jeff, who began working at Pierce – first as a recess aide, and then, after graduation from Stanford, as an apprentice teacher to Tamburello for two years, beginning in 1987.

Jeff as Mr. Tamburello's apprentice teacher Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Jeff as Mr. Tamburello’s apprentice teacher
Photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

On the experience of having Jeff back in his classroom as an aspiring teacher, Paul Tamburello writes:

I was used to training student teachers but none with whom I had this kind of history. I hesitated. Was my work good enough, rigorous enough, to keep him engaged? I knew Jeff held me in high regard, maybe even considered me a role model. It’s a long fall from a pedestal to the solid, hard earth. Finally, I took the advice I gave my students. Don’t be afraid to try, maybe even fail.

(…)

There were days I shook my head and grinned in wonder. Jeff’s initiative was taking our relationship into rich uncharted territory. This was giving the term “student teacher” a whole new dimension. It would give us things to talk about for years to come.

By our second year of co-teaching, it was, “Jeff and I expect you to…” or “Mr. Tamburello and I expect you to…” as we ran the classroom. Jeff may be the only kid in America who got a post-graduate degree in fourth grade. It was the richest experience of my 34-year career.

In 1992, Jeff finally had his own classroom: he began teaching Social Studies and English at Brown Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts — only five miles away from Pierce School. Mr. Tamburello continued to guide his student of now 18 years:

“I would emulate a lot of the things I learned from his classroom, including his sense of discipline, and the positive environment he established.” Jeff adds, “Now, when I would go back to visit, he would still be trying new things, and this would give me more homework to do as a teacher.”

Jeff’s memoir about these experiences, On My Teacher’s Shoulders, was published in 2012.  On his decision to write a book about Mr. Tamburello, Jeff says, “A big motivation was to honor the different, but related types of impact he played on me over the course of 30 years. It was not a static relationship: each time [I came back] there was something different that I had to learn and he had to teach me. I feel very fortunate that he had the strength and humility to let me know what he was gaining each of those different times. That helped me understand the reciprocity of shared important experiences.”

Paul (left) and Jeff (right) at Paul's retirement partyphoto courtesy of Jeff Kelley Lowenstein

Paul (left) and Jeff (right) in 2012
photo courtesy of Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Many of us are fortunate to have had teachers who’ve shaped us for the better, including what kind of teachers we are and aspire to be. I also love how this story highlights the lifelong learning and cameraderie that can grow between teacher and student — and how the distinctions between these roles can blur in exciting, unexpected ways.

Have you kept in touch with a teacher long after leaving his or her class? Have you returned to teach at a school you attended?

This is It (Extended Version)

All the frenzied grading for first quarter is finally done, and I’m in weekend detox mode:

OK — now I will take out the overflowing trash; now I will clear the sink and do the laundry.

And, for something more fun, but no less cathartic for me: sharing a day in my life as an English teacher.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

7:12 a.m.: Leave the house.

7:47: Arrive at school. Happy it’s Tuesday, the day I get first period off!

7:52 – 8:43: Review directions for next week’s parent conferences, and spend way too long grading two essays.

8:48 – 9:32: Class #1 today is ninth grade; I administer a quiz on the Prologue of Romeo and Juliet (two students are absent, to my dismay); they sign up for parent conferences. After the quiz, I institute a seating chart for the first time; they’re a great class, but have been way too chatty lately.

We go over questions from last night’s reading, and then get to the good stuff: acting out the scene where Romeo spills his guts to his cousin Benvolio about his unrequited love for Rosaline. They giggle as we discuss what chastity means, and a usually reserved student takes her role as the woebegone Romeo quite seriously. I’m impressed!

9:32 – 9:45: Gather up laptop, zapper, and 27 Oedipus books on a cart to wheel to the next class. Write the day’s agenda and HW on the board. Oops — I forgot the wireless doesn’t work in this art room. Now I won’t be able to check their Odyssey books in or Oedipus books out.

9:50 – 10:30: Class #2, tenth grade — out with the epic hero, in with the tragic hero. Getting the books to and from the students is a production anyway, because they need to remove copious amounts of Post-its from their Odysseys. But I’m glad they’ve been annotating their reading! They sign up for parent conferences in the meantime.

We stage the first scene, and get our female Oedipus to stand on a table to address the citizens of Thebes. A funny kid races to lie down at the foot of the table, i.e. the palace steps. They get the story’s first moment of dramatic irony!

10:35 – 11:14: Since my schedule is different every day, I nearly forgot I had a third class in a row to teach. Another 9th grade class. They get a slightly longer quiz on the Prologue to “make up” for word traveling from the first class. Again, someone is absent. Make-up quizzes are annoying and possibly useless.

This class also does a nice job with acting out the scene. Our Romeo is a lanky boy this time, and he drags his feet dutifully to convey his mopey mood. We also have time to talk about oxymorons, and how they help us think about the play as a whole.

A student hands in an essay that’s two weeks overdue. I hope I don’t lose it.

11:20 – 11:36: Wheel the cart of books and laptop to a nearby classroom that does have a wireless connection, and check books into the system. Return books to the book room, and load up with enough books for this afternoon’s class. Time consuming.

11:42 – 11:50: Back to the office to take care of housekeeping: attendance for this morning’s classes; check e-mail; fix a mistake I made on turnitin.com.

11:52 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Grade and enter 47 Prologue quizzes over lunch. I love the instant gratification of grading multiple choice.

12:33 p.m.: First bathroom break of the day.

12:38 – 1:18: How did it take me so long to grade 1.5 essays before class?

1:22 – 2:02: Class #4, another 10th grade group; this time, I can get on the wireless to check their books in and out.

A gift: Someone has left a model of a skeleton in the room. The kids can’t resist touching it and puppeteering it; we must use it in our class performance!

Five girls and one boy lie on the carpeted floor to play “suppliants” — citizens of Thebes pleading with Oedipus to rid the city of a plague. The skeleton is also given a suppliant pose, and helps us show this plague is BAD.

2:05 -2:16: Return books, and load the cart with new ones.

2:20 – 6:00: This part is murky to me; I spent no more than ten minutes talking to the people in my department, but somehow, 3.5 hours passed as I graded five essays; edited a study guide for tomorrow’s 10th grade classes; and made sub plans for tomorrow.

As usual, preparing sub plans took a lot longer than it should; I was foiled twice by a broken elevator (it’s hard to cart stacks of books down stairs); two more trips to the book room; and two of two copy machines out of service.

6:33 – 8:4o: Dinner and decompression, i.e. watching the first half of This is It. My knowledge of and respect for Michael Jackson grows exponentially.

8:41 – 10:42: more grading

10:43 p.m. – 12:24 a.m.: talking to my fiance/working on this post!

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)?

A day in my life as an English teacher includes lots of rewarding interactions with students…

…but it also involves grading essays in school, at night, and/or on the weekend. This week’s share of three sets was more than usual because of the ending of the marking period, but even one set a week will easily take five hours to finish:

What does a day in your life as teacher look like?

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!

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.