Monday, May 7, 2012

The Makings of an Honors Teacher

A few weeks ago my department head was talking with me about our honors program. Next year we are going to incorporate another teacher at each of the grade-levels. This means that two of the programs will go from one teacher with the honors darlings to two. For one grade this will not be a change (seniors have both AP Lit and Comp and a dual credit class called Expository Writing) and for another grade it will be a blessing (two non-tenured teachers collaborating with two veteran teachers--thanks, Aimee--to build a strong freshmen foundation). For the other two grade-levels it will be a drastic change, as the sophomore and junior level have each had a teacher who's been at the level alone, relatively, for 8+ years.

I am one of those teachers.

Here's an excerpt of an email I sent to my prospective collaborator:

"Would you be interested? Know that I want someone to collaborate with, but I've been teaching that class for 12 need someone who won't let me just railroad them..."

And, I meant all of what I said. I am opinionated, know my stuff and like my stuff, but really want someone who will challenge me and my way of thinking! Really,, can, after all, get really stale...and, I'm so close to stale...

Which brings me to the conversation I was having with my department head. We were talking about how our department is young (in terms of length in this building I have 2nd place and I've been here 13 years) and with that comes some inexperience, but also many Millennial generation characteristics that annoyed us when they were students and that definitely annoy us now that they are our colleagues and peers. She said that she wanted the four of us (those of us who are old school...having been here long enough to be tenured) to come up with a list of traits that we emulate and hope to exhibit as honors teachers. Being Generation X, I researched, took notes, wrote in my journal, talked with my friends and came up with the following traits that I hope I possess and I hope that other honors teachers possess. Here is the umbrella from which I garnered these ideas, straight from my department head's brainstorm. She wanted us to focus on "Knowledge & Expertise / Craftmanship / Presence / Efficacy :) / Engagement / Relationships / Relevance / Rigor - what does rigor mean to us?"

Every Honors Teacher (or, as the articles will point out, any teacher for that matter)

  1. "Love[s] their subject matter, and they need to love their students, and they need to love bringing them together."...these words aren't even mine, but they're soooo deliciously true. It's a given that teachers should love their subject, but many don't. A true honors teacher loves their subject, goes to conferences in the summer, seeks professional development and is always questioning--there's no such thing as a 'done' lesson plan/unit/activity.  If you love your students your students know. Even when you stop relating to them you go out of your way to find something that endears you to get a Twitter account or talk to them about their music, movies et cetera, you read blogs. A student that loves you will do anything for you. You are honest with them, even if that doesn't always cast you in the most positive light.
  2. Has high academic standards. You know what your subject is, you know what you want from students, never give up never surrender. If you don't know what these things are...take the summer before you start teaching to figuring it out. Yes, I said the summer, it will take the whole summer. What do you want to learn from your class (I found a love of certain types of non-fiction by teaching NF to my students)? What do you want your students to learn? Know this at all times! Be able to defend your high academic standards by citing your curriculum, common core, your own core...
  3. Has created a world in their classroom that may seem at first intimidating, but is actually inviting and challenging. You are not your students friend, although they might think it and later in life you just might be. You know what rules are firm in your classroom and you know what rules can and should be bent. You understand that when kids say you don't teach is because you are teaching them all about #8. You live and breath the balance between intimidating and inviting and challenging. 
  4. Plans and is always thinking about said plans. No plan/unit/test is EVER perfect and you get this. Nothing is ever finished. Part of the fun is the stress of it!
  5. Can differentiate in the long term, in class at the spur of the moment and is willing to do so without 'throwing out the baby with the bathwater'. Read #4 again, now read it again and then read it one last time...drink it in. There are different levels of honors students...some will just want a grade, some will want to learn and some are just there because they're parents are making them. You have to teach and help and learn from all of these students. Be open to the learning and the challenge and the confusion.
  6. Understands that the reward is not immediate or even noticeable. You understand that some students will never figure this out, you understand that some students will figure this out and credit another teacher, you understand that some students will figure it out late in life and write you the most exquisite email/letter/card. You live for these moments.
  7. Knows when to let students do the thinking and they stand firm in this fact even if parents, administration and other faculty tell them otherwise. The goal is to make a thinker/maker/doer, not to please your community or to make sure that all of your students have perfect grades. You might see AP or common core as a guide.
  8. Realizes that teaching honors is to teach students to: be self-reflective, reason, reflect, have a passion for learning, be independent and dependent...and this occurs all the time everyday. 
  9. Is willing to risk. I've changed aspects of my class every year...I try new things, better ways to teach honors, teach a certain concept...I know that not all of these is always going to pan out, but I do them anyway.
  10. Is willing to fail. I say willing to fail because if something doesn't work and you give up than no one wins. However, if you recognize where your failure lies and research and learn to do better than you and your students grow. It has taken me about 6 years to figure out how to teach grammar without losing my soul, I'm still tweaking the finer points and probably will be until I retire.

Articles from which I found ideas:
Teaching Honors
Teaching and Learning in Honors

1 comment:

  1. Your points reminded me much of my AP English teacher, especially point #1. Good luck with this new challenge.



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