(Continued from last Wednesday, October 2 . . . )
Days slipped into weeks, then months. The number of students staying after school waxed and waned. Some days a few got two checkmarks, but not three. Still, when peace became onerous, some boys would feel the pressure and “act out.” Then I’d be in the room after school with four or five of them.
On the whole, discipline, order, balance had been established in the seventh-grade classroom I’d tired to teach so ineffectively for the first few weeks. Now I could begin to supplement the books they’d completed in the first semester. To do this, I simply remembered all the fine teachers I’d known. I remembered especially their enthusiasm, their love for their subject matter, and their belief in the thirst most humans have for learning.
Following their example was not difficult. I loved learning and I quickly discovered that I loved teaching also. Watching a realization dawn on a student’s face. Seeing heads nod in comprehension. Listening to questions that showed critical thinking. Seeing the students reason; their wanting to know more: the why, the wherefore, the what, the when, the how, and when. All this was the reward of teaching.
Coming up with ways to the minds and hearts and spirits of those students became all-important to me. Here are a few of the many projects I used to capture their interest and to reinforce whatever we were studying:
Imitations of famous art and books they’d read
Mock radio news programs
Mock soap operas
Mock television news programs
Mock “Man on the Street” interviews
Mock quiz shows
Puppets and puppet shows for stories they’d devised
Collages to illustrate types of whatever we were studying
Mobiles for geography
In the classroom closet, I’d discovered a large roll of newsprint. That gave me the idea for the project I remember best. To begin, I asked the students to bring to class the Omaha newspapers delivered at their homes. We then examined the papers to discover what kind of information they contained.
The students discovered feature articles, news stories, comics, obituaries, sports articles, advice columns, business sections, gardening articles, movie reviews, weather reports, almanacs, crossword puzzles, letters to the editor, editorials, opinion columns. We discussed the difference between feature and news. We read opinions, editorials, and the letters to the editor. We simply researched the innards of newspapers.
Then I gave the students large sheets of newsprint and encouraged each of them to do a two-page newspaper on the early American period we were studying in our history class. Most of the students wholeheartedly engaged in this project, which lasted some time and involved research, writing, creativity.
For example, they came up with letters from colonists—rebels and Tories. One student even pasted onto his paper a mock letter from King George III bemoaning the waywardness of the Massachusetts colonists and praising John Adams for defending the British soldiers who’d been involved in what Paul Revere—the master propagandist—was calling “The Boston Massacre.”
When the students completed the project—on which they’d worked at home and at school—we had fifty-five two-page newspapers. The names they’d given to their various newspapers, which represented all the colonies in 1776, displayed real creativity, as did the news, features, puzzles, comics, sketches, and other writing they pasted in the columns of their papers.
We thumbtacked and taped the newspapers all around the room so the students could read and enjoy one another’s work. That was, I say with little modesty, the best teaching idea I ever had.
Next week, I’ll share one last story about this classroom. Then I’ll post about returning to the monastery that summer and about my second year in Omaha. By the end of October this saga will be complete. Hallelujah!
(. . . continued next Wednesday, October 16.)
Note: If you have some interest in discovering how I taught English and writing, please click on one or more of the following postings from my Sunday writing blog. In them I detail how Sister Mary McCauley taught my class in grade school. I followed her example when I began to teach.
Photographs from Wikipedia