Thursday, October 4, 2012

Making Connections

We talk about helping students make connections to the literature we study, but there are some other connections that are also important.

Today was one of those crazy days. Okay, I know—when you’re a teacher, every day has its own level of craziness. And teachers are always busy. But, still, today was one of those especially busy days when I had a few roles to play. I spent the entire school day in meetings with all the other department chairs around the county, then I headed to my school to work with Speech & Debate Team members for the last bit of their practice, and I ended my day in a class for teachers (“High School Reads Nonfiction”) which is being led by two of my wonderful colleagues. It was a busy day, but it was also productive and enjoyable. When I ran into a couple of students upon returning to school, they asked how my meetings went, and we chatted for a couple of minutes about my day and their time in class. Students on the team asked about my meetings and also said they hoped the class went well this evening.
And, at this point, you’re probably thinking, why is she telling me all of this? I’m not bragging about my activities or complaining about how busy I am, and I’m not bragging about how thoughtful my students can be (although many of them are pretty amazing). When we talk about how we teach literature, we spend a good bit of time discussing how it’s important to make connections, to make lessons relevant to our students’ lives. My interactions with my students today got me thinking about some other connections that are important. It’s essential that we connect with our students. But I don’t believe that it’s enough for us to know what is going on in and around their lives. They also need to see and hear about what is going on in our lives. We all hope that students see us as more than just teachers. We tell them about our pets, children, and hobbies in effort to make this connection with them. Beyond that, though, students should see how we apply what we teach outside of the classroom. They need to see and hear about that connection as well.

I don’t give my students a run-down of all of my meetings and other activities, but I do find ways to make connections during class discussions. When I told my students I would be out today because I would be attending meetings with the other department chairs in the county, they were really interested in the fact that all the chairs got together to talk about things. It gave them a glimpse of a bigger picture for English instruction and education as a whole. Throughout my grad-school years, I expressed enthusiasm for my classes, and I’ve shared my excitement about the nonfiction class I’m taking this semester. Yes, these are more “classroom” examples, but by sharing these experiences, students can see that I’m still learning and seeking opportunities to learn and grow. Students should know that we are learners, too, and it’s great if we can make connections and share what and how we’re learning. When I attend literary events (book festivals, readings, poetry slams), I share tidbits with my students. I share my “choice” reading selections. I’ll find ways to make connections to articles I read in places such as the newspaper or Time magazine and pose questions to the class about the issues. I share how I network with people through Twitter, and I talk about my attempts to keep up with a blog, discussing such things as the writing process and writing for an audience. Again, I do not intend for any of these things to come across as bragging to my students, but I want them to see that what we do and discuss in the English classroom matters beyond the English classroom.

We should, of course, also make connections with what students are doing outside of our classrooms that ties in with what we’re doing in our classrooms. Making these types of connections helps to foster a sense of community, and it also demonstrates a real respect for our students when we open up and share what we’re learning and doing.

Just some musings at the end of a long day J

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