My year 8 class is currently studying a book that I studied when I was their age, and we are all loving it so much that I started thinking about the other texts that I enjoy teaching, and that I have (in my short career) used with a range of year groups and schools.
Tomorrow, When The War Began
My year 8 class is in the middle of a comparative essay assessment for this text. We read the book, watched the TV show and the film over the last five weeks (plus school holidays). TWTWB is a novel that I really got into when I was in high school, and it is a book (and series) that is so unique in its plot, writing, characters, themes and issues. That idea of “what would you do if your country was invaded” is something that should seem inaccessible to teenagers today. But the way that John Marsden tells the story of Ellie and her friends is so compelling and vivid, so emotional and raw and above all else real, that I think it uniquely appeals to teenagers. The group of characters all have their flaws and are so different that I think everyone can identify with at least some part of a character. I used to live near a local airport, and whenever I read book one and then heard the planes flying at night, i would freak myself out so badly!
This is also a series that I can never put down; once I read the first book I often read the other six within the week, and the same happened when I was teaching the book this term – I spent the first week of my holidays engrossed in guerrilla warfare and teenage terrorists.
The Princess Bride
My year 8s looked at this movie at the start of the year, looking at characterisation, genre and film conventions. I adore this movie, and (selfishly) as a teacher I don’t like to teach texts that I don’t know or like. So when the opportunity came up for my year 7s last year to start looking at narrative conventions and characters, I had the idea to show them this movie. They loved it, after complaining at first that it was sure to be an old black and white movie, if it was made in the 80s.. I got them to do a character analysis on how one character in the story changed as a result of the events in the movie, some of them crafted some exquisite responses!
I have also read the book, which quickly became one of my all time favourites as soon as I started reading it.
The Outsiders I first read The Outsiders when I was in year 10. I was amazed that such a seminal, rite-of-passage text that resonated with my male classmates was written by a girl no older than I was (at the time). Since then, I have used that text with my mostly male, disengaged classes. I have found that they identify with at least something in the novel, whether it is the loyalty and devotion of the three Curtis boys, the hero worship of Dallas Winston or the lonely bravado of Johnny. I think The Outsiders is a book that you could study on many levels; whether it is to introduce themes and issues as I did this year with a hard year 10 group, plot and conflict with my year 9s last year or parallel characters and debating with my year 9s in my first semester of teaching.
The Outsiders was one of the first books that I remember reading in high school that I know have had lessons stay with me into adulthood. It was Ponyboy and Johnny that I turned to when facing my first novel study with my first “smart” class, and it is the lessons that they taught me that I try pass on to my students.
This one is a bit more personal for me. I saw this movie with my brother and my dad at the movies, and I left crying and proud to be South African. As an English text though, I think that Invictus has a lot to offer. It explores issues of racism, class systems, sports, politics, history and civics. I first used it with a hard year 10 class last year, and they looked at it more as a film study, with issues and themes the main focus. My year 10 class this year was very similar. We had previously watched a documentary called Pacific Warriors (my class has a lot of rugby specialist program kids) looking at the issues of inequality and funding in sports. I think the kids get a lot from Invictus, from looking at a moment in history and events that seemed too unreal to be true, to being able to watch a good sports movie.
I also like to teach it because it allows my students to get to know me a bit better. My family lived through a lot of the circumstances in the movie. My granny was a great hockey player who was not allowed to represent South Africa because of the colour of her skin, my mother was a great ice skater who was on her skating team as one of the “token” two coloured girls, and my grandpa would constantly talk about how great Madiba was. The movie is very real for me even though I have never really lived in South Africa, and I think lets my students see me as an actual “person” with a history and heritage that I am proud of. We also have a giggle at me being near tears at the end of the movie EVERY. SINGLE. TIME i watch it!
Guardians of the Galaxy
This one less as a “study” text, more as an “end of term” text. I have shown this movie at the end of terms since it came out, and every single class i have shown it to (8,9,10,12s) have enjoyed it. I adore it, and i think it’s perfect in its quirkiness!
Hope your Friday is less chaotic than mine! Would love some suggestions for go-to English texts, my tendency to stick to the familiar can at times be limiting…
While my lovely year 12s are on the computers in the library, and I am taking a break from the bottomless pit that is my marking, I thought I would reflect on what I am grateful about on this, the last day of school.
Being at a new school I was nervous initially about fitting in, about getting back to upper school after a year immersed (and I mean IMMERSED) in lower school students. I didn’t know if I was good enough to teach alongside a “proper” English department (last year me and my colleague were pretty much ignored and alone in planning/reporting/assessing despite having three well-experienced English teachers at the school). I worried about my ability to handle challenging behaviour management issues and trying to keep my emotions in check while getting to know students.
I have loved my first term at my new school. The kids I teach (admittedly on the better side of our school’s standard) are for the most part wonderful, and even the most troublesome ones have never been malicious or nasty. The staff are amazing, greeting you happily whenever they see you and always checking that I am getting on okay. My English department is beyond amazing. The Head of Learning Area has been so kind and generous in making sure myself and E (fellow grad/newbie to the school) are getting all the help, opportunities and resources that we need. Colleagues are always willing to give advice on problem students, re-read assignments to help figure out grading and all around offering support.
The kids, especially my year 12s, have been beyond expectations. Here are a couple of my favourite moments from my kids this term.
One of my years 12s A started playing music after we finished working one day, turned out to be one of my favourite songs EVER. Same thing happened the next lesson, and when he was in charge of the Friendship Week music playing at recess. It’s as if he has taken the playlists directly off my phone, and I listen to some pretty obscure and uncommon 90s and 2000s hip hop/R&B/rap/soul.
Every Tuesday afternoon with my year 12s having to allocate 5-10 minutes at the end for “Walking Dead Talk.” It’s a lot of fun for me, but also as a teacher kind of funny seeing kids who claim they can’t do essays and have trouble analysing texts, spout off diatribes about who Negan killed and was Glenn really dead and look at the symbolism of certain props, characters, sounds and gestures. #everythingisenglish
Assigning my year 8 ACE (academic achievement/extension) class autobiographies, and then reading them and learning so much about my kids. Also seeing some of the lesser engaged ACE kids pull out autobiographies of an insane level, well beyond what they appeared to be capable of. I say it all the time to kids; you write better when you are writing about what you know and love, and this assessment was perfect for my class in that regard.
The moment at the start of the term when I assigned my ACE class homework to post on a discussion what their favourite books were, and upon reading the responses realising that I had a class that (mostly) loved to read and loved to read similar books to me. And when I took them to the library for silent reading for the first time and they sat reading for an hour, uninterrupted and silent. This is after a year of trying to do the same at my old school with rarely any success.
Doing an in class essay with my year 10s, and while most of them couldn’t be f-ed doing anything, watching those who had done their notes and tried their hardest connect the dots and write their first essay. AND then reading the essay of my favourite year 10 F, who had impeccable notes and finished her essay in one lesson, and who wrote so lyrically about theme and the loss of innocence and characters, and linking to other texts. I literally clutched it to my chest when I say what she had written.
Hope you have a wicked last day of school teacher friends!
This is where I ate my lunch today during my second break between classes.
Besides the naked child wandering away from his tourist parents and the yelling between two groups of beach goers over whether one of them was a “Kiwi C-word” I managed to sit and relax listening to the sounds of The OC Mix 5 (one of my all time favourite albums) and realize how incredibly lucky I was to be essentially starting fresh in such a wonderful place at a university where I can leave my class on a 45 degree day and step into the best smelling sea breeze in the world.
One of the reflective questions given by my Planning, Pedagogy and Assessment (yep that’s a mouthful) tutor today was “What are the reasons that you have chosen to become a teacher?”
As the rest of the class fell into silence writing their responses, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually actively said “I want to teach.” And in a way I suppose I never really wanted to, even though I have been very lucky with the teachers that have taught me and have almost a million (actual fact) relatives and friends who went into the profession. I won’t lie, when I was first leaving school I considered it only for the benefit of all those holidays; I can’t bear the thought of having just four weeks off a year and am awe of people who survive like that, yet more evidence that I am lucky/spoiled. But as my uni studies progressed and I buried myself deeper in the worlds of Westeros, of Phillip Marlowe and Bilbo Baggins, and Hercule Poirot I realized just how much I love and thrive in the world of words and stories, and that my dream was not to be a world famous journalist but simply to be able to spend all day talking about books. All my friends know how excited I get when they’ve finally finished a book I’ve read and I get the opportunity to pepper them with questions about it. What did they like about it, who did they most hate, what part made you have a physical reaction (one of my all time favourite things about reading is when a book makes me cry or actually Laugh Out Loud, or throw it down in disgust or shock accompanied by a loud “no way,” which happened the most emphatically at the end of A Dance With Dragons). Even when I come across people on the bus, and it has happened before when I was reading On The Road, I have been able to share the reading experience with them and be constantly amazed that no matter how different people are they are linked through space and time by the books that they read. It excites me to think that a book I first read when I was 13 and that was first published in the 1950s can be enjoyed by kids now, and in the future.
So to answer my tutor’s question, I don’t think I have necessarily chosen to be a teacher. I have chosen to spend my life (hopefully) showing teenagers the world of literature not just through books but music and movies, and sharing with them my passion and excitement for it which I hope manages to rub off just a tiny bit.
And now I am off to my final class of the day, and most anticipated, English!
It's useful being top banana in the shock department.