Since leaving my last teaching job, I have done many things to keep busy and challenge myself. I self-published two books, I stretched my writing comfort zone to new genres by enrolling in a playwriting workshop that has resulted in two plays, and took an on-line poetry class.
I knit my first pair of socks, defying the advice of the local yarn store that insisted I could only do so if I took the class they offered. I followed directions on the pattern. While they won’t be winning the blue ribbon at the state fair, they’re warm, and remind me of what I’ve always said about knitting socks: why put time into something that’s covered by pants and shoes. Still, they’re fun to make and I’ll do a few more pairs.
Last week, I returned to the classroom as a teacher. I’m teaching creative writing at Link Community Charter School in Newark, NJ where I started my teaching career nearly 30 years ago. It’s part-time, 4 days a week, two classes a day of 7th & 8th graders.
Did I forget the energy required? Teaching, as any good teacher knows, isn’t all about content but about classroom management: how students enter the room, how materials are distributed, how attendance is taken, how grades are given, how questions as asked, how lessons are presented. I feel a bit like a 19th century schoolmarm in a 21st century environment. What I lack is the technology skills. White boards, Power School, and all sorts of other tools that are used to present lessons and manage data.
As a former English/Language Arts teacher, I mostly taught writing as an extension of reading- responding to literature, and prepared students for high stakes testing by drilling them with 5 paragraph essay topics. I tried to include some of the fun stuff, like short stories and poetry around the demands of the curriculum. April was poetry month, and that fell conveniently after the state tests, so we could relax and explore.
That was then. Now testing seems to happen throughout the school year, beginning next week. This school has delegated creative writing as part of its arts block. Each student gets a quarter of music, drama, creative writing, and fine art. So the challenge is to teach writing that doesn’t interfere with what the English teachers are doing and to enhance and engage students in writing. Who knows, some may realize they too can become writers.
There’s more to get used to. There seems to be more rules. There are infractions for not wearing the uniform correctly (thankfully I can wear what I want as long as I look professional.) Students leave their backpacks in the hallway and all materials are provided and distributed in class.
I plan to run the class as a workshop. Students will create a “heart” map and find their own writing territories. They’ll draft, confer and revise and create their own “chap books.” At least that’s my vision.
I’ll learn how to use the technology I need from the younger staff. Teachers are always students.
Stay tuned for a weekly update.