Several years ago, I had a few students show me a video called "I Just Sued the School System" by Prince Ea. In it, Prince Ea argues that the education system has not changed much in 150 years. He compares it to telephones and computers and declares that nowhere else in our lives would we ever allow for such limited advancement. In a traditional classroom, teachers stand at the board, lecture to students, depositing information into their heads. I feel as though this is how I was taught to teach - spend the night before becoming the expert of my content and then go in the next day to give that information to my students. What does that accomplish?
I am not proud of this, but I remember saying six years ago to a student, "You don't even have to have read the book. Just pay attention to discussion in class." What was I asking my students to do at that point? Listen to what a few motivated students and I discussed in class and regurgitate that information in a formal paper at the end of the unit? What a wake up call!
For the last five years, I have been trying to live as a "faciliteacher" instead of an expert. I have followed the guidance of some phenomenal teachers, such as Penny Kittle, author of "Book Love", and Kelly Gallagher, author of "Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts". It is difficult. I have had to abandon many of my loves, such as an extensive unit on "Catcher in the Rye", my favorite book of all time. I have had to give up control and allow my students to "share in the ownership of course content, making it more meaningful and useful" (Ventimiglia, 1993, p.2). I am still struggling with this, but as I gain more experience in this new philosophy of teaching, I am beginning to see different and better results.
Taking a page from Kittle's book, I have adopted choice reading. Peek into my classroom and by the glow of my twinkle lights you will see students lounging on comfy cushions and couches, reading their choice novels taken from my many bookshelves lining the room. The students and I work together on poems, excerpts and shorter works during class to hone our skills, and then apply those skills to choice novels. Papers are all individualized because the students are writing about a book they selected. They are the experts. I am there to answer questions, read over their work, and act as a sounding board for their ideas. I dedicate time during class for choice reading and group discussions surrounding larger topics, like character development or plot elements. The writing is far more entertaining. The students are passionate about the topic, because it is a book to which they feel connected. Since choice reading is student driven, all of the ideas they discuss in their papers are their own, not something they overhear in a class discussion and are just regurgitating.
I also write with my students, as suggested by Gallagher. It is terrifying! Students watch me work through ideas, make mistakes, create terrible pieces of writing, and scrap many drafts. I have also abandoned many formalities that were originally scripture for any formal writing. This makes sense, though. Very few people will have to write formal essays in the real world. They will all need to know how to successfully convey their ideas in entertaining and cohesive manners. Giving students the freedom to pick their topics and perfect their own voices makes writing fun and relevant, no matter the content.
I actually ended this last school year with a research project where students selected their own topics and the most logical format in which to present the information they found. One of my favorites was a student who was interested in racism in our current school systems. As she concluded her research, she decided that the most effective piece of writing for her topic would be a letter to our governor demanding change. Not only did she have to process the information she found, but she had to successfully convey her argument so that people would listen. After workshopping it with other students, we finalized it and mailed it to the governor's office. It validated all of her work and effort and made the assignment relevant to her life. Best of all, she was invited to Oakland University in July to present her argument to a panel of adults.
My seventeen years of teaching have been like the book "Where's Waldo?". At first, I followed the traditional teaching path, focusing on the canon and formal essays. I was able to teach many different classes from Honors Shakespeare, to Advanced Composition, to Science Fiction, to Comic Books and Graphic Novels. That Waldo, though, didn't have a scarf. So I kept searching. Next, I dabbled in a choice reading unit in my American Literature class. That Waldo had a scarf, but was missing his cane. Each year that I embrace being a "faciliteacher," I get closer and closer to finding the true Waldo. I haven't found him yet, but the searching and experimenting is part of the fun. Secretly, I hope I never find him, because that would mean I reached the end of the book, the end of my development as a teacher.
Undergraduate Degree: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor - Bachelor in Arts, Education
Graduate Degree: Eastern Michigan University - Master of Arts, General Literature
I love to spend time with my husband and two dogs. We often go for long walks in the woods or play at the dog park. Creativity is very important to me, so I enjoy painting, drawing, and knitting when I find the time. I also love to read and write. I am currently working on my first novel! My husband is a film major, so we love to watch movies, especially foreign films. He is currently helping me make my own animated lesson plans.