TDD mail from Tomesawayfromhome!
For Teacher Dare Day, can you talk a little about how you are shifting your Brit Lit class to what sounds like more nonfiction and writing? It sounds a little daunting: was it your call or your school’s to make the switch? How are you being supported in this endeavor?— tomesawayfromhome
Yes, it’s a bit daunting. Here’s some background.
In California, the state university system has developed an Expository Reading and Writing Course (ERWC). They’ve offered the materials to high schools (and training), hoping that the schools will use it and better prepare the students for their upcoming English classes at the university level. It’s full of nonfiction articles and template lesson plans for pre-reading, pre-writing, reading, post-reading, and writing.
It’s causing quite a stir, as you may imagine. There are teachers at my school, for example, who think that tearing students away from literature like Beowulf and Canterbury Tales their senior year is an ABOMINATION because they NEED to read from the CANON.
There are teachers who are my friends who were given carte blanche with their senior curriculum and teach a standards-based course they created and love.
These teachers hate ERWC because it’s taking away what they hold dear: excellent literature.
Then there are teachers like me. Teachers who love nonfiction (I have a journalism degree and reporting experience). Teachers who are embracing the Common Core because it makes sense. Teachers who are OK with letting literature go just a little bit so the kids can be better prepared for the textbooks and articles they’ll read in college, in addition to the snippet of literature they’ll get in their required English 10 class.
Am I better than the other teachers? No. And actually, their love for literature is probably what makes them better English teachers than me. Analyzing literature is not something that comes naturally to me at all. I am an on-the-surface writer, hence the journalism degree and background.
Am I better suited to teach ERWC? Perhaps. I’m definitely more willing.
So, to finally answer your question: I’m kind of on my own with it. Last year, teachers blended the two, using literature like Frankenstein as a springboard to discuss genetics and science/medicine ethics. I’m hoping to use Othello to jump into discussions about race and racial profiling.
There are certainly arguments for still reading Beowulf. One teacher at my school says, “The kids love it! They love monster stories!” and another says, “It’s important for them to see where the language came from and to grapple with difficult texts.” So, I’m debating.
But I’d really rather have them read about media literacy, social justice, gender issues, etc. and relate those issues to literature. My friend has his students read The Things They Carried, and I’d love to do a unit on war, focusing on PTSD. Another teacher at my school had his classes read Brave New World, which is perfect for dicussion of individuality and things like that.
My department head more or less said that as long as I cover the standards and stay within the district-approved texts, that I can do what I want. I can receive help with ERWC if I ask for it, and with the Brit Lit components if I ask for it. If I choose to go with an unbeaten path though, it’s my choice and I’m on my own. I’m OK with that too. I know it’ll be work, but I see this as an opportunity to make some positive changes in the senior curriculum, since I don’t really see how spending time reading Canterbury Tales and Beowulf help prepare them for college or a job. The kids who are going to be English majors (bless them) typically take AP Lit, so the rest of the seniors, in my opinion, are better off with a healthy dose of expository reading and writing, in addition to some literature.