By Shannon Bentley – Happy belated holidays, readers, and Happy New Years!
It has been a long time since I have written a blog and, trust me, I have missed the tiny steps and taps of the black and white keyboard. Since the end of November, I have been diligently working as the new 10th grade English teacher at Washington High School. The transition has been a bumpy road, but I am surviving the teenage battlefields of hormones, cliques, dominance, and identities. I am embarking on an endless journey trying to discover my own teaching techniques and my identity as a teacher. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the students.
Final exams are coming, which means that the first semester is almost over! My workload consists of figuring out how to motivate my students in their learning experiences. They’re currently reading the novel “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and the book caught some of the students’ interests, but left a drag in the rest. The students cannot identify themselves with “Night.” Even though the Holocaust did create cruel outcomes for millions of Jewish people, the students chose to ignore the cruel outcomes. My co-teacher and I tried to give mini explanations on Syria and countries in Africa. Unfortunately, the students have a strong belief that the Holocaust will never affect them.
Therefore, my co-teacher and I began to orchestrate a number of possibilities that we could turn in to empowering unit plans. We took in to account our students identities. The first key to creating unit plans is knowing what your students might be interested in learning. The past three weeks that I have been with my students, I have come to understand that they are from low socioeconomic backgrounds, most of the students know someone who has died through violence and/or went to jail, the students love to create raps, and they also love to talk about sports. We took those interests and created ideas.
We came up with unit plans as monthly themes so that the students are not stuck on one topic for more than 4 weeks. These topics consist of research on their identity as black youth such as the Black Lives Matter movement, black women’s hair, sports, employment, education, etc. We also thought of doing slam poetry, teaching Shakespeare’s Othello, along with a follow-up unit of film adaptations of the classical play. Will these ideas interest all of the students? Probably not. However, as a teacher, you have to start somewhere, especially when you want your students to learn the necessary reading and writing skills.
It is important to always reach the students based on their interests. We have seen classrooms on the news more successful in that aspect. My co-teacher and I will test our ideas and put them to work, along with changing our techniques when teaching the information to the students. It is a bumpy road, but I am willing to learn and be dedicated. It is like one of my education professors at Marquette said: “If you quit after your first year, how do you know that you learned?”