It’s the end of the school year. A time of celebration (we made it!) and a time of reflection.
I had the opportunity to chat with a high school English teacher on Long Island to find her perspective on the past year and how she feels about the work she accomplished.
How many years have you been a teacher? What grades did you teach this past year?
I’ve taught for going on five years at the high school level. I taught 9th and 10th grade this past year.
So you are now a veteran. Congratulations. What are some of the things you did this year that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of the sense of community that I built in my classrooms this year, and the sense of rapport that my students and I shared. I feel like this sense of togetherness helped the students to truly invest in their learning experiences this year and as a result become more active learners. I have been working on building more student-centered lessons, and I am proud of the efforts that I have made this year.
I agree with the importance of building a community within the classroom. It truly makes a huge difference. As an ELA teacher, we love hearing which works of literature your students studied this year. What works did you teach? Are there ones you’ll retire for next year? What new books would you like to bring into your curriculum?
In 9th grade I taught The Odyssey, Speak, Romeo and Juliet and many short stories, as well as informational texts. I also taught two Common Core aligned O’Dell units, including one that featured Hemingway’s short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”.
In tenth grade I taught The House on Mango Street, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, To Kill A Mockingbird and two O’Dell Common Core units. I also taught a poetry unit.
I won’t retire any of these works for next year, but I may modify the O’Dell units so that they are shorter and will allow me to teach other, longer texts.
I would like to teach The Secret Life of Bees in 9th grade and The Glass Castle and Their Eyes Were Watching God in 10th or 11th grade.
What’s your favorite novel to teach and why?
I loved teaching The House on Mango Street because the short vignettes make it a great novel to teach close reading and the poetry of the book makes it great to teach literary devices. I also feel that students in my district really relate to Esperanza’s story of being an immigrant in inner city Chicago, and this inspires them to craft their own vignettes and practice building voice into their writing.
I also love teaching Gatsby because kids are captivated by the Roaring 20s and the glitz and scandal of the story. It also helps that it’s set on Long Island, very close to where our school is located.
Those are two of my favorites as well. What were some of the greatest challenges of this past year? What did you do to overcome them?
Fitting in the entire curriculum that I was mandated to teach as well as the addition of two O’Dell units per grade were very challenging. I found that I had to modify much of the existing curriculum and make strategic choices in order to fit in all of the requirements. Also, the Common Core English test that will be given starting next year in 11th grade has changed many of the existing teaching practices in my district, and we have had to modify curricula in order to adapt to this new exam and begin preparing students for it.
How have you and your colleagues implemented technology into your classroom and lessons?
I use an Eboard and Google Classroom for each class I teach. I also use a program called ThinkCerca which has lessons that are aligned with Common Core reading and writing. Additionally, I use multimedia as much as possible, including film and music. Students are encouraged to use technology as much as possible and are given many opportunities to do so on homework and project assignments.
Have you used social media with your students, either in communication or implemented within assignments?
I use an Eboard for each class and Google Classroom, which has a blogging function. Other than that, I have not used social media with my students other than in having students create fictitious Facebook or Twitter pages for characters in literature.
Assessment time… what grade and comments do you give yourself this year?
I would give myself a B+. I feel that I was very flexible and adaptable during this time of much change in education, and that I am constantly modifying and growing my teaching skills to best serve my students’ needs. However, I could spend more time connecting to students including reaching out to students’ homes more often. Building the home-school connection is vital, and it is often something that gets lost in the flurry of mandates and other pressures from the state. I will place more emphasis on building a home-school connection next year!
Sounds like it should be an A, but it’s great that you see the places you can improve for yourself. Being able to use the summer to self-assess allows you to grow as a teacher. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and have a wonderful summer!