Friday, December 2, 2011

More Cool Moments in Teaching

I am taking a break from reading essays to... write!!! Ah, the life of an English teacher :)

So, God has been answering prayers left and right this week--a while back I vented some of my frustrations with a class that was not using time well, as well as some of my frustrations with myself for not knowing how best to teach them.

All it took was one student to totally make my week (actually there were a lot of students who made my week, but all it would've taken was this one). He had been sort of unmotivated going into our unit on Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and had asked early on why we were bothering reading an entire book about 19th century chattel slavery in the south. I'd had a decent discussion with him at the time, reminding him that though slavery was abolished in America, it continues to thrive in other parts of the world even to this day, and that though the book was certainly old, the truths about human value presented in the book were timeless. He still had seemed skeptical after our conversation, but dutifully read through the rest of the book.

Fast-forward to this week. We were preparing for our in-class essay on Incidents and our final unit essay on one of 3 essential questions:

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

In leading a workshop on how to write a solid introduction, I had shown the students several samples from the year before--introductory paragraphs that, despite my conspicuous lack of instruction on how to write them, had been beautifully and clearly crafted (thanks to the God-given talents of their gifted writers). I pointed out the hooks--the opening lines which sought to invite the reader in: engaging questions; thought-provoking quotes; short, yet poignant anecdotes. I spent even more time emphasizing the need for a strong thesis, and demonstrated how the best theses were clear and made it possible for the reader to make a basic outline of the rest of the paper without even reading ahead.

This student, who had been wary of the importance of reading Incidents, approached me a while later. By his own admission, he's never been a big fan of school, and especially not English or History classes, perhaps due to his years of taking ESL and struggling with writing effectively in English.

"Mr. Gibson," he said, "I want to be able to write like that." He indicated the sample paragraphs, still displayed on the projector screen.

"Will you work with me, and help me to improve?" He asked solemnly.

I was momentarily speechless--I am used to having students do what they need to do, but for a student to so specifically express a desire to improve caught me off-guard. Yet, I used the moment of silence to fix eye contact with him and smile.

"Absolutely. Come talk to me if you want me to read over what you've got at any step in the process, and I'll let you know what's going well, what you can work on, and how you can improve."

He nodded and returned to his seat.

I stood there wondering what I'd done right.

Thank you, God, for moments like these!

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