Yearly Review

Posted: July 8, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

One of the many benefits of a profession in education is time off in the summer. The others include the certainty that everyone needs what I can provide, and the product I deliver will perpetually increase in value.mandela

My school year concludes on July 9th. Now is the time to reflect on my year as an educator. Reflection is a central part of education, and I am happy to model a behavior I frequently urge my students to practice. Intellectual inventory can be conducted in countless ways, but I typically frame the discussion as “what’s working” and “what’s not working.” I try not to get too fancy with the daily stuff of life.

I’ll limit this reflection to the classroom. All the rest of professional life is just meetings and paperwork, both of which are necessary, but neither terribly fun. Side note: I am a proponent of the rare, trendy, and marvelous “walking meeting,” and will push for its further use next year.

I confess I’d have to look up my schedules for fall, winter, spring terms to determine exactly which classes I led in 2014-2015. I know I taught writing classes, and communications classes, and creativity classes, and literature classes, and humanities classes, and I suppose that is specific enough. In each of these courses, I was offered the opportunity to learn for and with and from my students.

As a teacher of a wide range of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, I regularly learn which texts work and which don’t. Students always enjoy reading Martin Luther King, Jr., finding his writing to be even more impressive than expected. The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton was so well received by my Creativity 230 class that I bought the book for my nephew Alexey; he starts college this fall at my alma mater, The Ohio State University. I find my students generally like poetry more than anticipated, this year’s favorites included “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden and “The Facebook Sonnet” by Sherman Alexie. My Dystopian literature classes proved Bradbury and Vonnegut’s appeal is timeless. And we all loved a twenty-first century short story treasure (with a ridiculously long title) that I found by Eugie Foster.

Readings that didn’t work are always a surprise because I believe I’ve chosen spectacular texts. My students could not get excited by Brave New World; too slow, they lamented. The creativity text Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson did little to engage my classes, his examples oftentimes distracting from the abstract ideas represented. I’ve already identified new books to try next year, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Creative Habit by Twlya Tharp.

Besides the texts, things under the heading of “what’s not working,” included a set of assignments that I considered reasonable, but were deemed overwhelming by students. Midstream, I made changes to better serve the intentions of the class. Over a decade of teaching provided prep work for the lesson I only recently accepted: the paramount importance of flexibility; I have learned to bend.

What worked included a student’s desire to know more. When many tired students were asking for a day off, or at least a “movie day,” one student rejected the idea, observing: “She’s not going to cancel class, so we might as well learn instead of just watching a movie.” At least someone was paying attention.

Ultimately, what matters involves groundwork for what happened in the classroom. A class worth being a part of is not an ordinary occurrence. Teachers struggle to concoct a winning mix of preparation, enthusiasm, knowledge, openness, and community. My primary efforts lie in creating circumstances in which all of the above flourish. Establishing a true sense of community among the students is of paramount importance. I forge community slowly, introducing new ways to meaningfully interact. I am sometimes struck by the sense that I am just throwing a perpetual intellectual cocktail party (sans cocktails), and any omission or inclusion can spoil the occasion.

What works is when students are truly present. I remind them that their presence starts with the act of waking up, putting on clothes, and coming to class (ideally with books and other learning materials, too).

group-of-people-walking-and-texting1This effort, I assure them, ought to be respected, rather than negated by texting throughout the class. Many, many of my students would rather text or do whatever it is they do on their “machines” than attend to what is happening in class. Such is the burden of their generation. I do not envy them.

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Ranger Trish?

What works is when students take ownership of their learning; then, I simply facilitate, answer simple questions, offer suggestions. Analogies illuminate every aspect of my teaching practice. One equates a teacher to a park ranger: both provide necessary information, note potential dangers, and point to a wide range of paths each individual might explore. I never tire of an awesome analogy.

Watching my students work together, talk, learn, grapple with meaning, that’s the stuff of a good day teaching, always and forever “what’s working.”

I am eager to have a term off, to read and write (as I encourage my students to do), to travel and explore, to rest and relax, to reconnect with who I am and who I long to be, to inspire myself so that in the autumn I will have energy to begin again.

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