It’s March 4th today, which means that the AP Lang exam is about two months away. This is around the time of year I start to feel panicked as I consider all the things we haven’t yet covered. And because we did a new unit on The Things They Carried this year, my classes are also a little behind schedule, which has only added to my anxiety.
Deep breaths, I tell myself. Deep breaths.
I’m fortunate enough to teach at a school where test scores—while important—don’t necessarily drive instructional decisions. Still, it’s my responsibility to make sure students get the instruction and experiences that will help them do well on the AP exam. My students trust that I’ll prepare them.
The longer I teach, the more I appreciate how much of teaching is a balancing act. I want to prepare students for the exam, but I also know that the most important things I can teach them reach far beyond any single test on any single day. And to move students forward also means being able to teach in the moment—to be present in the moment—as well as to look 2, 3, and sometimes 4 or 5 steps ahead. I don’t know that I like the metaphor of teaching as a juggling act, but it’s a comparison that seems fitting. You toss one ball in the air but have to keep an eye out for the next one making its way back, and so on. Teaching is about scope and sequence, it’s about parts and time—about managing all the moving parts of a classroom, yes, but also moving all those parts at the right time.
And so I started class today reminding students to submit their topics for their research essays by the end of the day. While we won’t do the majority of the drafting and writing of the essay until after the AP exam, students need enough time to research and think through their topics between now and then, and they have to begin that work now. Then there’s next week, as we continue our unit on examining effective argument. To prepare students for thinking about how to “defend, challenge, or qualify” a claim, I asked them to find a quote that speaks to them—words that inspire or resonate with them. I collected these “notable quotables” today online on my website, and their choices are thought-provoking. Some of my favorites:
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu
“Necessity is not an established fact, but an interpretation. ” — Friedrich Nietzsche
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” — Stephen King
“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” — Winnie the Pooh
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain
What I love about their choices is how rich and varied they are; no doubt they’ll serve as effective starting points for our discussions about types of evidence to support various claims (I’ve also been playing around with some new strategies on how to help students organize their ideas, which I’m also hoping to weave into our work next week).
So while the research topics and the notable quotables set us up for next week and beyond, there was also today’s lesson, and connecting it to what we had done the day before. Teaching is about planning ahead but it’s also about teaching in the moment. And today was our moment to laugh—and we laughed a lot. Students identified logical fallacies (our current mini-lesson unit) in several infomercials—Fushigi, anyone? Snuggie?—and then had to work in teams to create and perform their own infomercial in front of the class. “Make it satirical,” I suggested, “and don’t be afraid to go over-the-top to really bring those fallacies to life.”
And what “new and amazing” product did they have to sell? They had to choose one of the generic office supplies and other random objects I put on the front table—a remote control, a box of paper clips, an industrial hole puncher, a paper cutter, a roll of tape, and a board eraser, among other items—and come up with a new function for this product. Students only had 15 minutes to come up with their 1-minute infomercial, but they were fantastic. It was one of those classes that I laughed so hard that I cried.
And so for all my planning and looking ahead and worrying about that May exam—it was being in this moment with my students that mattered most today.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.