Thursday, February 17, 2011

What I Know

Although it is by no means an easy profession, there are numerous reasons why I love being a high school teacher; one big reason is that I am forever learning. There are, of course, various lessons to be learned in the day-to-day interactions with my students. I am regularly learning the better way to inspire and to motivate teenagers. But there are also continuous opportunities to read new material, new books. Increasingly, there are fresh studies in psychology, communication, research, and education to review and I find these all fascinating. In designing six new courses in just the last few years (AP Language and Composition, Creative Writing, Research in a Digital Age, Literature and Film, Horrific Tales, and Dystopian Literature), I have also thrown myself into additional fiction and non-fiction while altering tried and true material to fit redefined expectations.

This spring I am teaching a course I designed titled Dystopian Literature. A dystopia is an imaginary and futuristic setting in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through various controls, whether corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral,social, or totalitarian in design. Although exaggerated stories, there are critical commentaries that can be made on our present and past worlds when holding them up to the settings in the novels. Inspired by my juniors' enjoyment of a unit I do with them on George Orwell's novels 1984 and Animal Farm, fourteen seniors signed up to read and discuss more books, short stories, and films centered on this theme. In the first four weeks of the new semester course, students have researched the early Western philosophers, Plato's Allegory of a Cave and The Republic, and have read Sir Thomas More's Utopia. We've discussed Ray Bradbury's short story, All Summer In a Day and Kurt Vonnegut Jr's Harrison Bergeron. We've read non-fiction articles exploring the reasons behind the recent plethora of dystopian young adult novels available to teens and we've pondered and even physically role played the "what ifs" of having our talents and abilities handicapped so as to live in a world where everyone is equal. Later we'll compare Orwell's novels to other classic dystopian books and we'll delve into the more contemporary stories and films too.

The class has been one of the highlights of my year. Students have embraced the assigned "Thinking Journal" kept online in a classroom blog. Students respond and theorize a few times a week and are able to talk digitally and enrich our classroom discussions through this tool. They are enthused to come in and discuss the latest story or article and when I told them this past Tuesday that at the end of the semester they would be designing their own “Utopian” society and explaining their individual philosophies behind its organization, I found myself laughing at their obvious excitement and immediate brainstorming.

It’s all about passion. Their passion for the next cool story or the next creative project is a direct result of the passion they are noticing within the writers whose works we’re studying. We all feed off of it and yes, my own animation and joy of learning in the classroom is probably contagious and is motivating them also. It all comes naturally. Whether it's this new course or any of the other classes I have taught for years, being a teacher allows me the challenge to inspire those I teach to be life long learners, to remain intellectually curious, to stretch and to grow. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. But one thing I do know is why I love being a teacher.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like a great class. I actually haven't read much dystopian literature. There are times when I have to gather the emotional wherewithal to take on a book with a difficult theme. I'm reading and annotating "A Tale of Two Cities" now. I love that book, but am coming to the especially painful chapters, so when I have a chance to read, I often pick up a different book or start drawing. Dennis recently read C.S. Lewis's "Space Trilogy." He found it a rewarding, but emotionally difficult experience. As for your class, will you be watching the movie "Gattica?" It's a good one.