I teach high school English. My AP curriculum is focused on rhetoric--basically the art of argument. My regular English curriculum is focused on American literature and writing argumentatively in different modes of discourse. My Speech class curriculum includes debate as the primary focus for the second half of the semester. In short, I am teaching my students how to argue well all day long.
Here are the most important lessons:
-Listen. With an open mind, with a kind spirit, with a willingness to understand and find flaws in your own understanding. With a heart to learn. With curiosity, with humility, with respect. With your mouth closed--without interrupting.
-Share with a motivation of explanation rather than persuasion. Because democracy thrives when there is a free and fair exchange of ideas, share yours. When you do, with patience and competence, explain your reasons, supported with evidence and free from fallacies and meanness. Your audience might not agree with you, but they will have learned and grown because of you.
-Be discerning. As you navigate the differing opinions in the world on challenging issues, be careful how you arrive at your own position. Be thoughtful and well-read. Seek unbiased sources as much as possible, and recognize the biases for what they are when they appear. Check everything, consider everything. Seek wise counsel and don’t rush to assumptions. Do not compromise your convictions to align yourself with a wrong idea. Do not be committed to faulty convictions.
-Be compassionate. The most important lesson I teach. This should dictate all of our principles: the well-being of people. The best judgments and opinions come from places of understanding the other person, of empathy, of love. When we come into contact with people different from ourselves, we grow. When we choose to be compassionate, our capacity to hold right ideas increases. Our nation will be better served and far better off if we can raise a generation of people who understand that our worldview must be molded with other people in mind, simply because other people exist. And then, even when we disagree, at the very least we are all trying to get to the same place--what is best for everyone.
Right now, my spirit is wounded, but I have reason to hope in our children. I see in my classroom so much compassion and kindness, so much acceptance and love, so much willingness to work together and move forward. I see in them ideals and principles that have for generations made this country so beautiful: ingenuity, creativity, determination, hard work, competitiveness. And also love, forgiveness, a sense of justice and mercy, genuine concern for other people.
I think we adults could stand to learn a lot from our children.
The classroom looks different for all us. Some are still all virtual. Some are hybrid. For those in school, things still are not the quite the same.
My desks are in rows. All facing the front of the class.
Never in my career has my classroom looked like this. I’ve had desks in groups, desks on either side of the room creating a center aisle (this is a popular design), tables, I’ve had couches and bean bags and recliners. But never this. So the kids up front are close enough to see me sweating and the kids in the back are not sure what color my shirt is.
Rightly so, we have been discouraged from walking amongst the children too much. I spend most of the time at the front of the room or at my new desk situation at the side of the room. I haven’t had a desk in my class for years. I keep all my personal things in a locker and all the things my students need in pink dresser. Now I use a bistro table and an ergonomically designed drafting chair as a desk area. I can see all the students perched from my chair. But I can’t hug them from here.
When I teach and look out at my students, most of them are wearing their masks. Now instead of standards and agenda on the board (those can be found online, specifically on Google Classroom), I have their 10-minute color-coded break schedule listed. I am especially proud of this very teacher-y idea of mine. Of course, students can take a mask break whenever he/she needs one, but I love the fact that I color coded the desks and the break times.
So, I see only their eyes. I can’t see them smile. I can’t see them scrunch their nose or twist their mouth or bite their lip—in frustration or confusion. I can’t read their faces like I used to. Do I need to repeat this, teach it differently? Does this child need something else, something beyond the lesson? I can’t see my students, not the way I am accustomed to seeing them. And it frustrates me.
But this past week, in second period I noticed something. This class is quiet, which makes it even more difficult to see them. I was at the front of the room, teaching. Looking over the room, searching my students for answers and questions, I saw something amazing. Their eyes.
Now, because of the masks, their eyes had become something more. I relied so much on their eyes to tell me so much. And now, I could see more than I could before. Of course, I have always seen my students’ eyes. Obviously. But now—how striking. How powerful. I had forgotten, or maybe had never realized, how much we can see in a person’s eyes.
It also struck me how fortunate I was to see these students eye-to-eye at all. With the uncertainty this pandemic has created and with the losses I have had in my personal life, I treasure every day I get to spend in the classroom with my teenagers. I also appreciate their willingness to wear a mask to protect themselves, each other, and me—and make it possible to be together at all.
As much as I possibly can, I will look for ways to see good in the hardships and tragedies of this pandemic. Seeing my students in a different way is wonderful, indeed.
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.