It’s always interesting to watch students trickle in at the beginning of class. You see every attitude displayed, from vegetative, to quietly weepy, to merely morose, to pleasantly anticipatory, to maniacally joyful.

Each attitude has its advantages and drawbacks for me, as a teacher. The problems happen when you get too many people with the same attitude. Like in one class today where three girls game in crying (and two students who had been in school all day were ominously missing). This is a very small school, and our classes are pretty small, so everyone tends to notice and connect these things. Not that all the students were dealing with the same problem or anything, but when two or three kids in a class start with the crying, it’s only a matter of time before other merely “sad” kids start feeding off of the others’ emotional state, and pretty soon the old emotional snowball starts a-rolling.

So today I did the best I could to fire up the class and get everyone pleasantly distracted, but I myself was starting to feel down about the whole thing. Who wants to learn about crafting a crappy persuasive essay when everything seems like it’s going all to hell?

Days like this I wish I could scrap the “functional skills” curriculum and just unleash some piece of beautiful art on the students–some piece of art so perfect that it could touch each student and let them know that the universe understands what they’re feeling, and that you can get through it enough to still function, and hopefully even to create some beauty out of the suffering. I would like to play them Beethoven’s 9th, or read Hamlet or something. I don’t know.

Of course, there’s no one thing that can reach every student at any given moment. But that’s sort of why we’re all reading Catcher in the Rye together right now. The beginning of new classes and new schedules is a pretty stressful time, in a quiet way. It seems like a lot of kids like the regular reading schedule and the subject matter speaks to them. But still, we can’t spend all day doing that, which means I have to crack the whip. On days like today, I look into the eyes of people going through genuine suffering (the suffering is real, even when the cause seems silly), and with all the force I can muster I harangue them until they write a 5-paragraph essay or fill out some damn worksheet, gnashing their teeth all the way. Some days, I’m just like a mule driver. With emotionally volatile mules.


Today we finished up the “persuasive essay concept map” we started yesterday, read an article by Dave Barry about how to win arguments, and kept reading Catcher to page 107. The worksheet can be downloaded from yesterday’s post. In class, next to each “reason” box, we added a space for an “example.” An example is a story from your life, or about someone you know, or a hypothetical story about someone you make up, or a fact or statistic that supports your reason. When people read your reason, they’re going to ask why you think what you think. Your example should explain to them why you believe your reason is true.

Now, this graphic organizer is not something you’re going to create and fill out when you actually write these persuasive essays on your state tests, but it represents the brain-work you should be doing before you even start writing one of these things. Tomorrow we’ll practice creating very simple outlines. A basic outline is something which you could actually create and use when taking a state writing test.


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