Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Beautiful Thing

I have two very amazing things to blog about here. First is that I have been selected, well, more or less self-selected, to spearhead the NHS English Department blog, also located here on blogger. Once I have the web address solidified and reserved and we begin to get some updates on there and it isn't just a bunch of unrecognizable templates, I'll post a link to it here.

In regards to this blog, I am shocked that I have been able to essentially slip through every major hurdle that has so far impeded all my colleagues in attempting to do the same thing. A colleague in a separate department has one for her classes, but it's hosted in a different location. She's recently been encouraged to switch it to blogger because it's more user-friendly and has fewer adds and distractions on it. I agree, 100%.

Both the technology admins and the school and district admins have given the OK. My faculty mentor and the entire department seem excited about it, and ready, whole-heartedly, to post, contribute and utilize this resource to better the department, the school and the district. Not only does it act as terrific marketing for the school and for us, but it showcases our students' amazing work, which brings me to my next topic for discussion: my theater class.

When I was first informed about it after the interview process, I was told that it would be relatively small and intimate, with more seniors and juniors than freshmen. In fact, I was told, in not so many words, that freshmen would essentially not be in the class unless they had either a recommendation, were in the honors section of it, or were selected based on previous interest or talent. Plus they really shouldn't have an opportunity in their schedules for it given that they need to take both physical education and a foreign language during their freshmen year.

Three weeks ago, after the final student switched into my class, I now have 24 in the class. 19 are freshmen. 12 of them admitted either through discussion or in written responses that they have no interest in theater and don't want to be there. What a strange predicament I had.

After battling with them repeatedly to quell the excessive chatter that burdens the class from achieving great things, I did feel defeated for a while. I felt like the class would never reach the potential I knew they were capable of. So many of the students care nothing for theater and only want the class to be over. I personally think that's a horrible attitude to have and I repeatedly tell them that they need to make the best of the situation and try to learn as much as possible, enjoy the learning process; or, if none of this is possible, to at least be quiet and let those that do love theater learn to their potential without being distracted.

The response I got was pleasant and predictable at first. They listened, were attentive and quiet for the first day, then they shifted back to their old ways. Now I feel like a broken record when I tell them every few days and give a mini-lecture on how to pay attention, take notes, and be quiet during class, but it seems to work for a few classes until I'm forced to do it again. I'm content to do this though, only because today's class completely rejuvenated me when it comes to theater class.

We're reading Long Days Journey Into Night, definitely not a light text by any means. It also only has five parts, three of them male, and we're reading it in a class comprised almost entirely of giggly girls. That posed a double-whammy to my hopes of success with the play. But, I said to myself, once they get into the play, I'll capture some of their imaginations.

And today, I was proved correct. I have to say that I have at least 5-10 students in the class, a few of them ones that I never expected to react this way, absolutely enamored, angered, impassioned and frustrated with the characters in the play. They actually enjoy and understand the characterization, minutia and nuances of the characters, and are commenting about their emotions regarding the characters' inabilities to really speak to one another, to be fair, and to be truthful. They are discussing with one another about how great or horrible a character is, are literary voicing their frustrations and shocks at what these characters say, and they are...READING!

All the characters are multi-dimensional, intricate, and untruthful, each of them having convoluted interactions and histories that entangle with one another into a downward spiral that eventually leads into a heart-wrenching ending that will leave them drained and exhausted. Slowly my class is learning that dramatic literature has the most complicated and dynamic characters. None are static, every detail is essential and metaphorical, and the tons of subtext stuffed between every line is more crucial to grasp than the physical action that takes place.

Once my theater class understood that and began to understand how complicated these characters are, and how painful the play is already (we're only on page 36), they have jumped on board the 'love it' ship, as I affectionately call it.

Class today was beautiful. Of course there was chatter, but there was learning. There was prediction, critical thinking, meta cognitive thought, and note taking occurring, without me leading it at all. They were questioning why a character would act a certain way, why they act a certain way towards one another, and how the family is dysfunctional and/or disintegrating. I have 5-10 students BEGGING to take a script home over the long weekend to find out what sort of addiction Mary has, to discover what will happy to Jamie and Edmund, and if the family will heal itself.

This is the reason why teachers teach. When students recognize that literature is amazing, and begin learning and discovering on their own, and when they beg to learn and understand what's happening, and then teach themselves and one another simultaneously, it's a beautiful thing.

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