The Path to Easy, Exciting, Excellent Teaching
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
My school year finished this week, and as I watched my seniors graduate, I felt like we all deserved something special for making it through this year. This year proved to be the ultimate curveball, but teaching always involves many challenges. We try to pick literature that everyone will love and activities that will help everyone learn. We have to be fair, but flexible. Funny, but serious. We have to set deadlines for our students and return essays and assignments in a timely manner. We have to answer emails and phone calls, and go to meetings with guidance counselors, parents, supervisors, and principals. We chat with our coworkers to brainstorm. We explore new films, podcasts, and journals to keep our conversations current.
With all the demands we face on a daily basis, the question is, how is it possible to make teaching …
I know what you’re thinking. Teaching … easy? Yes. Easy. Learning can be hard. You need to spend countless hours reading, gathering and organizing evidence, researching topics, taking notes, and having deep discussions. But teaching should be easy. In one class period, we introduce a concept or topic, clarify the text, and help form a conclusion about what it all means.
Teaching English mostly involves reading out loud and asking really good questions. Sometimes students can answer a question quickly by raising their hand, and sometimes they need to explore the question independently or with some of their classmates first.
When we ask students to read a long, challenging novel, we don’t need to have a bunch of deadlines, packets, or handouts to make a difficult task even more difficult. Our students can take notes in their own style and read at their own pace. I try as hard as I can to make reading and writing pleasurable, not stressful.
When I say exciting, I don’t mean that every day needs to be a wild adventure. Class can be exciting when it’s loud or when it’s quiet, but on any given day, we should be just as excited to come to class as our students. Our students should love school and look forward to it, not dread it. This feeling goes beyond laughing with friends or playing sports. They should be genuinely excited by complicated ideas and the innovative writing styles of Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, and Jane Austen. When they imagine living in another time or another country, it shouldn’t feel like a required task they need to complete for a grade. We need to take those other worlds and make them relevant by asking our students to write short stories and poems, or short films, video essays, and podcasts. We want the conversations in our class to continue after our students walk out the door, so we should give as many options as possible when it comes to what we ask them to read and write about.
Most importantly, we should set the bar as high as possible for each student. The literature should be challenging, and the questions we ask should be challenging. Every minute of class should be intense and immersive. Of course there’s time to relax by telling stories and laughing about life, but there’s also a way to sense the rhythm of learning, and the pulse of the class. There’s an art to knowing when to slow down and when to move faster. Teenagers can be distracted easily and also get stressed easily.
Our students will remember us for the example we set: our energy, our love of literature, our zest for life. They will also remember us if we can somehow manage to make learning less work and more exploration and discovery.
My self-paced courses focus on these three E's of teaching.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers