I love those days that as I walk through the school, it feels as though I’m draped in a wispy grey, cotton blanket. It may not be quite warm, it may not feel just right, but it feels just like my blanket. The halls seem calmer, dulled. The students greet me pleasantly enough and return my smile readily. It’s a nice start to the new six weeks, though unconventionally so. I am reminded of the weight of what approaches us in the coming weeks. Playoffs, one act play, scheduling, planning, STAAR! Working, working, working towards goals that often seem unsurmountable given our circumstances. But I am also reminded of the joy inherent in what will be our success. I cannot say why I am so confident, and I certainly cannot say that you should be as well. All I can say is that I am. I have my faith in my colleagues, in my students, and in myself. I try in every way, big or small, to help even just one more teacher on my path and I know that many of you do the same. We may feel tempted on a day like to today to dwell on what we may call a wet blanket hanging over us. I prefer to cozy up into my wispy, not quite warm, familiar blanket.
Today definitely reminds me of a chapter from a Frank McCourt’s (Click here for a great article on him) memoir named Teacher Man. He describes a rainy day beautifully in one of his chapters. He also says this beautifully in one section:
“Instead of teaching, I told stories.
Anything to keep them quiet and in their seats.
They thought I was teaching.
I thought I was teaching.
I was learning.”
McCourt is best known for his memoir Angela’s Ashes for which he earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and was turned into a movie in 1999. But for me Teacher Man had a much more lasting impact. I would encourage everyone to check out his audiobook, which he recorded himself.
Frank McCourt's pedagogy involves the students taking responsibility for their own learning, especially in his first school, McKee Vocational and Technical High School, in New York. On the first day he nearly gets fired for eating a sandwich, which a boy had thrown in front of his desk, and the second day he nearly gets fired for joking that in Ireland, people go out with sheep after a student asks them if Irish people date. Much of his early teaching involves telling anecdotes about his childhood in Ireland, which were covered in his earlier books Angela's Ashes and 'Tis.
McCourt then taught English as a Second Language and as well as a class of predominantly African-American female students, whom he took to a production of Hamlet. He writes about his teacher certification test when he was asked about George Santayana, whom he was ignorant of, but was later able to give a well-prepared lesson on the war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Other highlights include his connection between how a pen works and how a sentence works (in explaining subjects and grammar, an area which he struggled with himself) and his use of realia such as using students' forged excuse notes as a segue to writing with scenarios.
He taught from the time he was twenty-seven and continued for thirty years. He spent most of his teaching career at Stuyvesant High School, where he taught English and Creative Writing.
During the time of the book McCourt went to Trinity College to try to take his doctorate, but he ended up leaving his first wife because of the strain.
I hope everyone has a wonderful day.
Miguel A. Maymí-Malavé