Friday, October 14, 2011


Today was exhausting. However, it was also technically my most productive and successful day of teaching to date. Today, I spent significant time doing just about every important part of the job: prepping, instruction and grading. At the end of the day, I could look back and say "Wow, that went well!" That's a good feeling.

1st period this morning was my most intensive prep period so far this school year. I was starting new units in Humanities 2nd period and English 6th period. I'd been planning for this all week. I knew what questions I was going to ask to kick off our discussion--they'd been percolating in my brain for a few days. However, I didn't know how long the unit would last or what the scope would be. So, I opened a Word Document, and condensed the questions that I'd been thinking of into 3 essential questions:

1) How does a value of diversity create true equality?
2) How does "loving your neighbor as yourself" balance the tension between order and freedom?
3) What does it take to preserve and protect freedom?

As I looked at the questions, it dawned on me that any of the 3 would make an excellent prompt for a unit essay. At this point, I realized that if I ran this unit till Christmas break, two months would allow me to cover a lot of ground and that all of the topics that I'd been hoping to cover before Christmas break could easily support these essential questions (Puritan society, The Crucible, American Revolution, Slavery/Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Civil War). So, I made a list of assessments, with the final draft of the unit essay (engaging an essential question utilizing examples from literature, history and class discussion) being due on Dec. 9. From there, I worked backwards and all of the pieces more or less fell into place: a factual presentation on a historical event, an open-forum discussion, a current event report, a group skit about a current global issue in the analogical style of The Crucible... all of these things would feed into our final essay. The schedule I created for my English class was similar, minus the history assignments (though I did tell the class that I expect them to draw on knowledge from their U.S. History class).

I finished making copies of the unit schedule just a minute before 2nd period started. It was nerve-wracking glancing back and forth between my watch and the copier, but I felt so good about having the unit mapped out. Even if things change dramatically as we get into the unit, it's easier to adapt from existing plans rather than to rely on total guess-work to make changes.

For the next few hours, I was in instruction mode: I introduced our new unit in Humanities by facilitating a class discussion over the students' current perceptions of the terms "freedom" and "equality", asking them to draw on their own personal experience and opinions. I told them to jot down the ideas that came up in our discussion as it might be valuable down the road in their writing (or at the very least, informative to show how their understanding of these terms deepen and grow).

3rd period, I took the Humanities students to the computer lab to do some basic research on famous witch-hunts/examples of scapegoating throughout history (persecution of Jews during the Black Plague, persecution of Koreans after the Kanto quake, etc.). This activity served as a helpful follow-up to the students' report on blacklisting and McCarthyism that they'd submitted that morning, and an illuminating introduction to the events of The Crucible. Though Arthur Miller intended the play to serve as a parable against the hysteria of McCarthyism, the Salem Witch trials were indeed real historical events and not without precedent, or antecedent.

My World History students also spend the period in the lab--having wrapped up our introductory discussion to our unit on government (in attempting to ascertain why there's so much variety in the way governments are run, we examined the question of whether humans are naturally good or naturally evil), I started the students on their first assessment: researching an Imperial Chinese Political/Ethical philosophy (Daoism, Confucianism or Legalism) in small groups and then preparing a high-quality skit that demonstrates life according to these philosophies, and shows how these systems attempted to deal with the brokenness of man. The freshmen worked hard and got a good start. Those kids always work hard--what a fun bunch of students. I can't wait to see their skits.

6th period saw a similar discussion to 2nd period Humanities, although the personalities of the students in 6th period took the discussion in slightly different directions. It will be interesting to see how the ideas develop and take shape differently between the Humanities students and the English students.

7th period, I went into grading mode as I worked on World History tests. I spent several hours finishing up the grading, then watched JV and Varsity Volleyball games.

I'm wiped out now, but man--it was a good day. Insanely busy, but good. I love the feeling of having a plan in place. I can sleep soundly tonight. That is, till 5 something, when I will wake up for cross country...

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