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Teaching Profession Opinion

The Teacher’s Tale

By Hanne Denney — December 20, 2006 2 min read
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I teach senior English. It’s a group of 10 students, all of whom I’ve taught before. Some of them were in my world civilization class my first year as a teacher. I was terrified when I entered that classroom. It was a self-contained class of 14 students with individualized education plans (IEP’s). Their needs were great, and my skills were few. I didn’t really know much about how to teach special education, and I learned the history curriculum days before my students learned it. I struggled, they struggled, and together we learned something.

Last year, my second year as a high school teacher, I had some new students in my world history class (with a couple of come-agains), and some of the same students in my 11th grade English class. I knew them better, and they knew me better. We worked more efficiently. I was more organized, knowledgeable, and educated. The students were more trusting, and cooperative. We had challenges, but met them fairly well. I learned a lot more, and they learned something, too.

This year I’m all English, all the time. Fortunately, I’m teaching The Canterbury Tales and Beowulf and Night, books rich with history lessons. I love social studies, and I don’t know how you can teach literature without a good basis in world history. My co-teachers love it because I can answer those questions students like to ask, fact-based inquiries that inform the reader.

So my English 12 students have finished reading the Tales, and have written their own version - The Arundel Tales. We’re telling the story of a group of people who make a pilgrimage to New York City to seek a new life. We have the Tales of the Individualist, the Counselor, the Administrator, the Preppy, the Athlete, and the Innkeeper. We have a prologue, and a character list. Their stories are short and shallow, and were pulled from them with effort. We didn’t develop the richness I had hoped for. In discussions, the stories were imaginative and detailed, funny and inspiring. But it’s so hard for these students to get their words onto paper. The solution was simple. After all, the idea was to tell the story. So although we have a finished written product, I will help my students tell their stories today -- aloud, with friends, the way stories are meant to be told. We worked hard, and we are going to celebrate.

Today we celebrate what we have accomplished, in a presentation to our favorite administrators and Principal. I’m serving breakfast “At the Tabard Inn” (authentic, insofar as our research showed that bread cheese and meat were staples). The readings will be short but in them I will see more than two years of my students’ lives. I will see them as young men and women who have learned something. I will celebrate.

When I celebrate what my students have learned, I am also celebrating my growth as an educator. They have learned something about medieval England and literature. I have learned a lot more than that.

I will celebrate when these students cross the stage and graduate in May. They will start their own pilgrimage. I will miss them, but I’ll celebrate. That’s every Teacher’s Tale.

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