I teach three sections of a Junior-level English class (or American Literature).
When I was hired, I was repeatedly warned by my principal and my department chair that the students were behind grade level. “No problem,” I said. And, truthfully, no problem is exactly what I thought.
Then I received their first assignments, which were assigned as a summer project, via email the first week of the school year. I’m almost sure that if tears didn’t actually spring from my eyes, I most certainly felt like crying.
“Not a problem,” is what I said to the 80 girls who entered my class every day.
“Huge, huge problem,” is what I said in my head.
Every idea, every plan that I had was instantly swept from my head and erased from my computerized lesson plans.
“These are not quite what I was expecting,” I told my students as I handed their assignments back to them, “but we can completely fix it. By the end of the year, your writing will be exactly what I want. You’ll be writing essays in your sleep. No problem.”
And they wrote. And re-wrote. And wrote again. There were tears (not mine) and multiple drafts. There were countless discussions, tutoring sessions and crash-courses on thesis formation. For the entire first semester, we worked on crafting simple essays. We walked through a series of five essay topics in the first four months, all following the same format.
When we returned to school from Christmas break, I instituted a new plan. Every essay they turned in to me had to be at least their fourth draft. (They had a bad habit when we started of typing, ignoring any suggestions by Microsoft Word, and hitting print.) I handed out a new rubric and a timeline for the assignment on the second day back from break.
Today was the sixth class meeting of this unit, and I had a student come up to me at the end of the last class.
“Ms. S, I have a huge, huge, horrible problem,” she said.
“Well, let’s take a look. What’s the problem?”
“I don’t get the thesis. And mine is terrible. I just don’t get it.” She handed her paper over to me. I skimmed the first four sentences, written exactly as I said they should be and came to the thesis:
Through interactions, dialogue, and actions it is very clear that Washington Irving characterized Tom Walker as a greedy man.
I can’t begin to describe my absolute joy at this sentence, which was a four-month transformation from the:
The Scarlet Letter would be about a girl who was embarrassed.
It really makes all of those Saturdays that I spent 8 hours parked in a coffee shop writing individual comments on 80 essays totally worthwhile.