To Teach (texts) or Not To Teach (texts)

I have a problem of being too honest with my feelings at the wrong times and this essay is a good example. My limited exposure to teaching since I wrote tells me that the teacher should be in control of the classroom at all times, and to chose what gets taught and how. Of course, it is incumbent on teachers to make the instruction as interesting as possible to stimulate student engagement and learning but no, students should not be controlling what is taught.

Teaching Literature and Media IL2234

Position Paper

To Teach (texts) or Not To Teach (texts)

      I’m not really sure what I am going to write. I’m not really sure what is my position about teaching literature. A few months ago my position was that reading fiction is vital to a Language Arts classroom and that part of my job is to make my students excited about reading. I still think that to be true to an extent but I am taking away three messages from the readings and the lectures from all classes: anything written by a white male can’t be used simply because it was written by a white man, I need to marginalize my white students because they have been favored in every setting for so long that is time for the non-white students to have an unfair advantage, and finally that teachers suck and suck a lot. These are the messages in the big multi-colored flashing neon signs that have been most apparent. There have been other things too, a lot of useful other things, but those messages are the ones in fine print. I could be wrong about this. But I don’t see how teaching Toni Morrison before William Shakespeare is going to benefit any Language Arts student. Morrison has some level of popularity and she is not a white man but she is not a great a writer as Shakespeare was and if remembered her work will be remembered not for its content but because of her ethnic background.

      Pitt is a liberal school and I am a liberal too so the white-bashing doesn’t surprise or bother me, but the teacher-bashing does. It seemed that nearly everything we’ve covered for all classes had nothing good to say about teachers and the teaching profession. Some of the nonfiction texts we used did cover material that will be useful and when I am planning lessons I will concentrate on those. However, I’m fairly certain that I am not supposed to be writing an op-ed piece here so I will try to address the prompt.

      My position paper could just as appropriately be called “To Teach Literature or Not To Teach Literature” or simply “To Teach or Not To Teach.” Or “To Teach Good Writing Skills or To Teach That Anything Goes is Ok.” Since the beginning of the semester my teaching position has dramatically shifted from my being excited in a I-can’t-wait-to-do-this way to a position of not really being sure if I really want to teach at all. I’m not sure if my present feelings are due to the stress I have been under due to having to work, be a full-time grad student and student teach at the same time, or if it is because I was expecting my mentor teacher to be some sort of record setter who uses the innovative techniques I am learning and he is not, in fact I would say that he is a below average teacher who has nothing in common with the ideal teacher model that Pitt is presenting, or if it is because of the conflicting messages I have been hearing in class like the ones that texts are not important and then two hours later hearing that texts are important with no mention of the previous message, or it could be that my first teaching is scaring me.

My feelings on the following foci:

Constructivist Learning

      Seems to be a no-brainer. Only an absolute control freak would feel the need to exclude students from their own education. And only a complete narcissist would think they have so much to say that is worth listening to that they think by talking at or lecturing to their students is the best way for them to learn. I am interested in doing nine forty minute long monologues everyday and I am not going to do that. I plan on allowing students the freedom to help design reading and writing curriculums, select texts, design writing assignments, and determine what information is important enough that it should be tested among other things.

Text Selection

      At a perfect school I will have total freedom to determine what texts will be read and used in my classes. So then my students will be able to choose what texts they will read and study. These texts will have to be cleared by me and they will have to be age, grade, and learning ability appropriate. I have seen that most anything, including comic books, is appropriate in a secondary school classroom. My main concern will be that texts challenge students and force them to become better readers and able to handle more difficult texts. My big question about text selection has nothing really to do with multi-culturalism but about how difficult a text is appropriate for a particular age or grade.

      

George Orwell wrote that he was reading Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield when he was nine-years old. I just read that last year and found it a great but complex read. My students have read Holes and Pigman.

Even the accelerated students read Pigman. They did not read Holes because it would bore them I was told. These students are thirteen and fourteen years old and they are reading texts at a difficulty level far below that what Orwell was reading at nine. Is this helping them? Are they reading things they should have read in grade school? Would our education system be turning out stronger smarter students if they were pushed to read high school or college level texts at an earlier age? I will be teaching the Diary of Anne Frank this spring. A great book and middle school students generally love reading it. Jane Eyre is another text, albeit fictional, about a young woman.

Couldn’t this be an assigned reading along with The Diary of Anne Frank? Is it too tough? Would it take too long to read? Would it be too challenging? I think some of my accelerated students could handle reading something this complicated while also enjoy reading it.

      I will have to stop looking at texts from my adult’s perspective and try to get into the head of teenagers before I can adequately answer this question.

Inquiry Based Learning

      In my Classroom Connection 3 paper I likened my mentor teachers classes to a place where God sermonizes to his followers. Now I will liken these same classes to a birds nest full of hungry chicks, sticking their beaks about in the air and chirping at their parents for food. The students are the chicks and the teacher is parent bird, of course, stupid of me to explain the analogy. Anyways, my chicks are chirp chirp chirping away and not being fed a meal full of protein often enough to satisfy them. IBL is one solution to the problem of unsatisfied and unchallenged students. IBL is something they are starving for [at least that is what my fifty hours (?) of observations and four hours of actual teaching has shown me) and are not doing enough.

Multiple Perspectives

      I have learned things this semester from hearing what other people have had to say so encouraging students to voice their opinions and thoughts is something I will do.

Genre Studies

      A more difficult approach to teaching literature. If a student is only exposed to one form of literature for an extended period they risk being able only to access that literary form. I can see its usefulness; if a student has a genuine desire for a particular genre then their work capacity will be increased if they are allowed to pursue that avenue of study. A question I have is it better for students to become “masters” of one genre or a “jack-of-all-trades” of all genres? A basic familiarity with all genres and a master of one is best. But how to accomplish this in one school year?

Critical Lense Studies

      The bane of my literate class experience. What if what is important to me in a novel is not what the teacher has told me to focus on? What if reading using a critical lense takes all the joy out of reading? I see the value and importance of using critical lenses as a prospective teacher but I hate using them when I read. My big question about critical lenses is does using them skew readings and lead readers to a place that does not exist?

Conceptual Based Planning

      A great idea and one that I need to work on more to develop better lesson plans. I think my problem is making my lessons to complex instead of finding an idea and using whatever texts that will benefit the unit.

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