Recently, though, I haven't buckled down to much else besides school stuff, so guess what? Another post about school today! How exciting!! (And here I've been teaching my students not to use excessive exclamation points).
Confession: I envy the teachers who have limitless resources at their beck and call. I envy them because I have been stuck in a bright orange walk-in closet as my classroom (this was at my State U); this horror boasted an ancient projector and five pieces of broken chalk. In a classroom like that, is an interesting class even possible, or is everybody breathing too much chalk dust to make it even tolerable?
Not much I can do about the painful colour scheme, of course (short of lugging paint cans and rollers into the classroom in the dead of night). Nor can I simply make money for resources appear in the budget. But there are a few free resources, many of which I've used (or seen used) in the last couple of weeks here:
Jokes . . . and more Jokes
I learned something from my students today: Apparently, I rely on jokes a lot. All my Composition students had presentations due today, debating whether entertainment and TV had any role in education. The last group stood up and announced that in true Ms. VB style, they were going to begin with a joke - some poorly-punctuated excuses that parents wrote for their kids. In fact, these excuses:
Sally won't be in school a week from friday. We have to attend her funeral.
Please exkuce lisa for being absent she was sick and i had her shot.
My son is under a doctor's care and should not take PE today. Please execute him.
I learned about jokes a few years back, when I was first learning to teach. A teaching book I read reminded me that unfortunately, most students are not geeky like me and therefore not automatically passionate about thesis statements and conclusions. Everybody likes a joke. Tell one at the beginning of class, it gets people's attention; at the end of a discussion, it lightens the mood (and sometimes the tension).
It's just icing on the cake when a student turns around and tells me a joke.
I discovered that most of my guy students - yes, the guys - are actually Mulan fans. My Intro to English class is in the middle of writing a Personal Narrative story, and to help them understand the idea of conflict and climax, I played a song from Mulan for them. They cheered - then groaned as I turned it off every thirty seconds to analyze the story in it.
Never have I had a pop culture reference work quite so well, though I have played MASH clips for students before (they didn't get the point of that one) and played a selection from the film Amazing Grace for my students (again, too esoteric). I think here of the famous formula for teaching languages: i +1. Little by little and not all at once should the students' knowledge be built up; if I have to use a prop of Mulan for just a little bit, then so be it. Next semester this class will all be reading Bonhoeffer.
Celebrating Weird Holidays
A week or so back, I celebrated 'Talk Like a Pirate' day with my class. I walked into class wearing full pirate gear (or at least as close as I could approximate using the contents of my closet, and a shirt that I stole from my cousin). There is no intellectual point to Talking Like a Pirate, or celebrating any other random holiday. It's just fun. I've learned that October 6 is 'Mad Hatter Day', so perhaps if I can dredge up a weird but cheap hat, I will celebrate that holiday as well.
Be Your Own Guest Speaker
This one is a recent favourite. Unfortunately, English does not lend itself to field trips or guest speakers the way that history or science does. We cannot visit the Museum of the Comma, nor invite a veteran from Fragments to come speak with class. What we can do, however, is take on some of these roles ourselves.
Last week I asked my students to read "Appointment with Love", by S.I. Kishor. Like the Mulan song, this story was intended to help them understand the parts of a story better. Instead of having students inspect the story (this takes forever and can result in sketchy answers), I invited Kishor herself in to tell us about the story. I left the classroom for thirty seconds and came back with my hand clapped to my back, my voice as gravely as I could make it, and the endearing term "young man" or "woman" for all my students. My "guest speaker" turned out to be a wonderful variation on a lecture: I got to talk to them about what they should learn from the story, but we as a class had far more fun than had I simply droned on as in the ordinary lecture.
By no means am I a great teacher. I worry periodically that I am spending too much time entertaining my students, not enough educating them. Then when I don't make class interesting, I worry that I'm not being entertaining enough. And trust me, I am far too lazy to invent these resources for every class; some classes all we do is work through the examples. But I do believe that some entertainment plays a vital role in the classroom.
None of these resources are intellectual at all. There is nothing particularly challenging about dressing up like a pirate, nor about playing a clip from a Disney cartoon movie that rewrites history and Chinese culture without compunction. But what these resources lack in intellectual benefit, they make up for in emotional benefit: Fun activities in class reassure our students that we teachers are real people too, that we do not live in a closet at the top of the Ivory Tower, and ultimately that we can be trusted to instruct them well and to carefully and respectfully answer their questions. Fun activities, in other words, build trust - an attitude very much needed in a successful classroom.
Next time, I promise (fingers crossed): Introverts in the Church