I’ve been thinking about this week’s education article for some time, and the usual outrages in college and secondary education just don’t seem interesting at the moment. One can write only so many articles about the confused demanding to be addressed by made-up pronouns, bizarre and groundless accusations against young men, attacks on free speech and general leftist lunacy. This week I thought I’d reflect a bit on the realities of contemporary teaching.
Most people think teachers have a luxurious three months off during the summer, and they’re paid for doing nothing. Not quite. We’re paid only for the actual days we’re holding school. So we can eat and otherwise pay bills, our pay is spread out over twelve months, but we earn nothing for the months we’re not in school. That’s why so many teachers work summer jobs.
We were out of school the first few days of June this year, and return on August 8th. Three months off? That would be nice. It’s actually just a week more than two months, and that time shrinks every year. The kids don’t return to school until August 20. So what do we do from the 8thto the 20th? We have only two designated work days, days when we’re supposed to be left alone to prepare for the school year, but the rest are various “training” sessions, which amount to days of paper shuffling and indoctrination in the newest schemes to transform education. In this, my medium-sized Texas school district is little different than any district anywhere.
Circa 2018, teaching and learning, providing the best possible educational opportunity for kids, is still done, but other considerations are well on the way to surpassing that traditional reason for schools. The truth is, people learn in exactly the same ways they did in the time of Plato (427-347? BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC). But there seems no limit on the amount of money to be made by repackaging ancient, failed concepts, making up new acronyms and terms, and selling them to administrators seeking new ways to revolutionize education, and, of course, fill out their future superintendent’s resumes. But enough general whining.
What am I doing this summer? Laying around the pool, soaking up the rays? Playing golf? Vacationing in exotic locales? Not so much. I’m spending most of my summer, apart from the occasional bike ride, doing exactly what I’m doing at the moment: typing. You see, gentle readers, I’m assigned two new classes this coming year, classes I’ve never taught: Mythology I and Mythology II, semester long, elective classes.
To my dismay, I’ve found we’ve never had a textbook, so I’m reading several texts and a variety of supporting books, and writing unique curriculums for both classes. Writing a curriculum for an English-based class is a labor-intensive endeavor.
Any study of literature involves a substantial specific vocabulary, so I’m developing weekly vocabulary worksheets based on the literature we’ll be reading and discussing. Such a study also requires a working knowledge of general and specific literary terms, so I’m developing a weekly lit. terms quiz based on that literature terms handout.
Why would I do something that boring? You’d be horrified to learn how poor kid’s vocabularies are. They don’t know common words all educated adults of previous generations took for granted, words like: hymnal, profuse, clergy and thousands of others. No teacher of English can assume contemporary teens know even the most simple, common words.
It’s also necessary to integrate appropriate films relating to the reading, including The 13thWarrior, Star Wars: A New Hope,The 300, Troy, Captain America: The First Avenger, To Hell And Back, various Joseph Campbell works, and a variety of other historic and representational films. This means buying and reviewing many films, and developing study guides and assignments for each.
There are, of course, a variety of other activities. Since I have a significant historical sword collection, as well as a reasonable amount of knowledge of those weapons and their means of employment, I’ll also develop a unit that explains the place and meaning of weapons in history and mythology–Excaliber, for example–and allow the kids to handle them (not Excaliber, obviously), giving them a tactile sense of the reality of the characters about which they’ll read. Such handling will, of course, be carefully controlled, and none of the weapons are sharpened.
In any such class, it’s impossible to plan everything perfectly. There will be things I must add, some I must abandon, alterations of all kinds, many done at the last minute. Until one actually teaches such a class, they can’t know what they don’t know. My work on this class won’t ever stop, no matter how long I teach it, but hopefully, I’ll have much of the framework constructed before I begin in August.
I’ll also be teaching some sections of Junior English as well. I’ll have less work to do this summer on that class, but it too will keep me busy. Because I always begin about two weeks before my first day, making most of the major copies I need and putting them all in order in my kid’s portfolios, I actually have less than two months off.
Portfolios? Most kids are very poor at organization. Actually, so are most adults, so I require the kids to keep a hanging file with five separate manila folders. They must keep every handout and paper they produce and file them in the correct folders in chronological order. They receive a major grade for that alone each six weeks. Would you be surprised to learn, gentle readers, that only a few of my students will know what chronological order means and how to accomplish it? Teachers have so little class time–about 45 minutes–it’s important I do everything I can to use those precious minutes as effectively as possible, so when kids sit at their desks the first day of class, pretty much every major piece of paper we’ll need is already waiting for them in their handouts folder.
Certainly, not every teacher has to write new classes every summer, but many do, and it’s been my experience good teachers do not teach for 30 years from the same set of yellowing notes. I’d find that incredibly boring. The point, as always, is to provide the best educational opportunity my abilities and resources will allow. That’s all any teacher can do. The rest–the learning–is up to each student and their parents. I’m always going to do my best to fulfill my obligations in that teaching/learning equation.