I love being a teacher most days. I mean yes, noble profession and inspiring young minds and what not, but sometimes it just takes a lot out of me. Sometimes you have students who don’t do their work and students that irk your nerves and sometimes you just don’t wanna be bothered. Other times, however, it is extremely rewarding and you love every second of it and it keeps you from losing your mind even when graduate school is slowly pushing you towards the edge (sorry…that was Finals Week talking). This past semester of teaching has been that second thing more often than it’s been the first, and I can chalk that up to the fact that I got to talk about what I love and a bunch of students crazy enough to let me do it (that's them up there).
So this past semester I taught three sections of 1102 (the second semester of freshmen English) at my "real job" at Georgia Gwinnett College. It wasn't my first time teaching a research based class (I've taught four before) but this time, with me being in a PhD program and all now I decided to make it a little different. I have been told that once you're in a doctorate program everything you do should be geared towardsyour dissertation, and since mine deals with how speculative fiction can be used to help increase literacy in black kids and increase their self worth by showing them that they can be super and anything else they want to be. To make my class work with something similar to that, I decided to theme it “Eyes of a Child”. I wanted to talk about the issues that are usually glossed over or banned when you’re talking to or about kids. I wanted us to take a real look at the world from a child’s point of view and see that they deal with real issues just like anyone else, and ignoring those issues will only make things worse when the kids grow up. To help them get used to the idea that what you see as kids plays a big part in your life, I had them talk about TV shows that they watched when they were younger that they remembered. For most of them, they admitted how these shows changed them and how they brought up great memories.
Since I had a theme and research to teach, I decided to break the class up into two parts. For the first half of the class I had them read six different stories over five weeks about people 18 years old and below that dealt with various issues. Surprisingly, for all my love of diversity I noticed that none of the stories I chose had female protagonists. (My male privilege messed that up a little bit, I’ll own up to that. I’ll do better next time ya’ll) but regardless, these stories had us discussing real issues like child neglect, poor school systems, abandoned and bullied kids, and even a story very near to my heart about the importance of representation. We even read two stories that showed that you can’t make blanket statements about a child’s well-being; that sometimes that “perfect” family hides a dark secret and that non-traditional family is a loving home. These stories forced my students to realize that a child faces issues like we wouldn't believe and that we have to address what they face before their issues destroy them.
To segue (random, but believe it or not this is how you spell the word pronounced “seg-way”. Look it up) this into research I told them that for their papers they would have to choose an issue that affects children that they want to address and discuss possible solutions for it. This is when the class really shone: they came up with some of the most amazing topics, many of them personal to them. I heard about the ones you would expect: bullying, divorce, childhood obesity, varying types of child neglect and abuse, foster care, and single parent homes. I heard about the not so usual: sexual abuse, dangerous daycares, homeless LGBT teens, and schools not preparing kids enough. I even heard about some extremely interesting topics I wouldn’t have thought of: colorism, xenophobia in kids, religious intolerance in schools, teenaged domestic violence, slut shaming, the dangers of competition, creating more “conscious” music, same-sex parents and youth representation in government. It was a shock to me how perceptive my students were of issues around them, and how eager to talk about the hard hitting issues they were. It just goes to show that if you make your students comfortable enough to be real with you, you’ll get real results.
To cultivate those real results, we had to learn to research. I started off by teaching them how to analyze sources and be able to figure out what sources are strong and which ones are lacking by playing a game of #OneGottaGo (I prayed for this next generation’s musical tastes after that one…and learned how much my Saturday class loves anime and video games). Then we had the customary library visit to learn about databases, and after a week of rest (it was #Elementober, I needed the break) we watched one of my favorite Halloween movies to learn how information can come from unlikely sources, of course while learning how to cite those sources (MLA style is just one of those necessary headaches you gotta deal with).
One thing I always try to do is give my students the opportunity to learn in different ways. One of my students called it "game-based learning" and many of them just called it making the class not boring. We had in-class debates to teach them the basics of an argument, played a game I called “Quotes Against Humanity” to show them how to manipulate information to fill in the blanks in their papers, and for the final class we played a surprisingly intense game of "Jeopardy...WITH A TWIST" (that's mine, don't steal it) to test their ability to discern issues in their favorite TV shows, movies, and books. I try to structure my classes in a way that is enjoyable for the students and me, all the while giving them the opportunity to learn stuff that they could apply. That's why while I'm sure they were all mad at me for their final, I felt it was important for them to learn to add to the research already out there, so that should they go to graduate school or just want to be unique in the world, they'll have the tools to make themselves stand out in a crowd.
All in all this semester was pretty amazing, and not just because it was on a topic that was of interest to me (though that was important). You see, when you are passionate about your class they will 9/10 be passionate back with you, and when you love what you do others will pick up on it. Because I was genuine with my students we were able to have fun AND learn, and I can honestly say it was one of the best classes I’ve taught yet. Looking back at this semester I saw some brilliant minds being cultivated in my classes, and saw some people express themselves in ways they never would be able to anywhere else. One thing I always wish is that I could teach lower levels for nothing else but the opportunity to really change some perceptions, but this year showed me that regardless of age people can learn and change if they are willing, and I'm grateful for that. Sure I don't perform heart transplants or build computers, but I know that my work does some good in the world. If nothing else, I think I did some good in the minds of about 60 folks, and for that I am grateful.
Do you see anything up here that you wish your English teacher did with you? Anything that I did that you want to learn more about? Leave your questions, comments, or concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!