Every time I mention to someone that I am teaching summer school, there seems to be the same sentiment in their response: pity. Summer school is supposed to be miserable and hot and pretty much the worst place to spend the weeks that are supposed to be full of freedom and relaxation.
But the truth is, I have found more freedom and relaxation in summer school than I have felt in a really long time. Instead of wearing me out, it is making me remember why I went into teaching in the first place.
There are no state tests on the imminent horizon for my kids. I can choose the curriculum. We can read whatever I want to read. We can take as much time on something as is needed. It’s a beautiful blank slate. An effective blank slate.
I chose to start summer school with grammar. Our department agreed that we didn’t hit it hard enough, not with the modules and test prep we had to fit into the year. Grammar certainly isn’t my favorite thing to teach, but materials are readily available and there’s a natural sequence to it. Honestly, it’s something that I don’t have to think about too much, so it seemed like a perfect choice.
I’ve spent an hour and a half per day on every part of speech. Nouns. Verbs. Adjectives. Etc. I’m teaching grammar the way I was taught grammar. I’m going in depth and explaining why pronouns are necessary to our language, the differences between adverbs and adjectives, how words can either be prepositions or adverbs, the craziness of linking verbs, the list goes on. In other words, I’m taking my goddamned time and not just throwing out definitions and worksheets, which is the only thing I have ever had time for in regular school. There’s nothing fancy, just tons of explanation and practice.
And whaddaya know, I am seeing major results. Are the kids grammar masters? No, that’s only reserved for a select few anyway. Am I reaching every single kid? No, a few of them are absolutely hating it. But if I can get most of the class to label every type of word in a sentence, that is huge. I’ve never achieved that before. I’m usually happy when they capitalize proper nouns, much less distinguish an adverb from an adjective and then explain why.
Today, a student stayed after class specifically to thank me for being a good teacher. He told me he never understood “any of this stuff” until now. I don’t begrudge his former teachers because I know full well how hard they work and how much they care. I blame the system for not giving them the time or resources to make English approachable and interesting. We don’t have the time to explain concepts any more and then use them in practical ways. It’s always a race to the finish, and we always lose anyway.
I wish I could go to the Powers That Be in the education world (specifically New York, grrr) and tell them to start trusting their teachers. Without a test or ridiculous standards, we can do so much. There is nothing wrong with going back to the basics and giving us the time we need to make sure these kids have the skills they need. If I could have the five weeks we spend on test prep, plus the weeks we spend on testing itself, they will walk out of my classroom in June with so much more than those tests have ever provided.
I’ve already decided that my year will start out with a modified version of what I am doing right now, modules and testing be temporarily damned. Who knows if this surge of success will continue, but I am willing to try.
Beats a summer of Netflix any day.