In February 2015, my friend Blue Cereal Education’s blog (www.bluecerealeducation.com) included a story called “Examination Day.” Here’s a link to the blog and story: http://bluecerealeducation.com/blog/examination-day-fisherbrecheen-edition. I immediately knew I wanted to use the story. It is a simple little story with an obvious message, but I knew it would be a fun jumpstart to a discussion about the standardization of public education.
At the end of May, I was hired to teach 10th traditional ELA and 11th AP Language and Composition. I got hold of the summer reading assignment. The book choice was solid, but the questions left much to be desired. As I began working on my calendar this past summer (yes, many educators work during the summer), I found myself wanting to try something new, and I kept coming back to “Examination Day.” I knew I wanted to use it to begin a dialogue about trying harder, doing more, questioning everything, analyzing everything—my personal mantra. I decided to start the first day (with AP) by stating my name, welcoming them to AP, and reading the story. I wanted little interaction the first day to see what they could do.
My plans further coalesced when my curriculum director showed a funny video about tests not preparing students for life (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY2mRM4i6tY), and I remembered a poem called “Pretty Good” by Charles Osgood (http://www.lowtwopair.com/pretty-good/). It’s not a difficult poem, but went with my theme.
Things did not go exactly the way I planned (when do they ever?), but I was quite pleased with the reality. I ended up talking to/with the class more than I intended, but they seemed to need some direction, explanation, and encouragement. As I’ve learned over the years, plans are necessary, but flexibility is integral in education. I did introduce myself, welcome them, and asked if they minded if I read the story to them. They seemed surprised and excited. I don’t care how old students are, they enjoy being read to. I finished the story and stated, “I know you don’t know me; I am a stranger. Turn to a partner and speculate why I would use this story on the first day of school.” While they talked, I eavesdropped and prepared the video. Some of my favorite funny comments were, “Does she want to kill us?” said in a stage whisper; and, “Are you a wizard?” To which I replied, “I prefer goddess, but I’m okay with wizard.”
I told them I wanted to throw something else into the mix and showed the video, at which they laughed in all the right spots; I finished with the poem, then we talked. I explained a little of my philosophy: I would prepare them for the AP test because I knew many of them would take it. Plus, the preparation would make them better, more effective writers. However, my goal would always be to take them past any test. They are more than one score/grade on one day. They need to think for themselves and question everything, including me. I wanted them ready for a college and/or a career, but it would be criminal of me if we didn’t explore the hows and whys of literature, if I didn’t push them to trust themselves and to find and use their voices, if I didn’t teach them the rules of English (and how/when to break them).
The majority of students in each hour had open, excited faces. Their eyes were bright and eager. I saw smiles and nods. I made eye contact and almost tangibly felt connections being made. It was a lovely first day.
I continued with a few more pieces the second day. We began discussing what they’d read in the past to give them pieces in their “holsters” for essays and to create a common culture between us. We bonded over what we loved and hated (I’m looking at you Romeo and Juliet and A Separate Piece). We finished the week by discussing research papers. I gave them time to start thinking about them with a partner, which gave me one-on-one time to offer advice, encourage ideas, and cheerlead them (this is their first research paper—ever).
I even had a student stay after school on Friday to talk to me…for almost an hour. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful year of learning, growing, and sharing—for both my students and for me.