We’re ten weeks in now. Year eighteen teaching high school English. Year fourteen with tenth graders. YES!
Honors English has just completed our reading of my beloved novel of all time, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Students are polishing essays and practicing presentations. They have chosen symbols, themes, or motifs to examine at work in this novel. They will share a creative product portraying such while highlighting the writing accompanying this project.
For example, two young ladies are commenting on Harper Lee’s acknowledgement of the impact of racism through a sort of “taste-testing” of rice crispy treats: some the natural, beige color and some obviously treated with red food coloring. Another young lady is demonstrating Atticus Finch’s denial of the traditional beliefs of the impossibility of black and white working together as she leads the entire class in a team-building activity. Twenty-three students must all touch a bean-bag globe, in order, within a one second time frame. Impossible? Actually, no.
What is impossible, tragically, is the translation of this amazingly genuine and creative learning to my English Regents classes.
I have always considered my career as a high school teacher as one I value and appreciate and approach with integrity. My role is public. I am not only an educator; I am also a mentor, a role model, a nurturer, a listener, and a lifelong learner.
However, what I am not is a social worker, a physician, a Sunday school teacher, … a behavioral therapist. I am ill-equipped.
Typically, my Regents classes experience much of the Honors classes yet with less depth and at a slower pace. More and more, however, this is not possible. With budget cuts that have not been restored in Public Education and thus the elimination of more individualized learning programs targeted for particular needs, students who benefited from such resources are now floundering in classes with little to no appropriate support.
Public schools do not have many options. And, we teachers who have perfected our craft in a particular area are beginning to raise our voices stating, “I’m sorry; there must be some mistake.”
Young people have progressed to a tenth grade, general ed. setting with reading levels that hinder basic plot line, class discussions. Extremely anxious students and students who require constant reminders of etiquette for large group gatherings monopolize class time leaving fewer and fewer opportunities for moving the learning to the creative, analysis and application phases.
Impossible? Sadly, many days, the answer is yes. I, needless to say, am no Atticus Finch.
Please, help me J.A.M.!