New Job, New Levels of AWESOME!

Without reservation, I am completely and totally psyched to share news about my new career: I am a KIPP LA teacher! I was recently hired to teach 8th grade ELA and I can’t even begin to articulate how thrilled I am. I have nearly complete control over my curriculum, which is both terrifying and exhilarating, and I am looking forward to spending every minute of the next school year making myself into the best, most inspiring teacher I can possibly become.

I am working hard on developing a curriculum for the year and I feel like it’s coming together pretty well. So far, I’ve got three major units mapped and I feel like I’m ready to start planning some great projects and papers to coincide.

Unit 1: Heroes
proposed texts
- Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow (Superman!?!)
- Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan (nonfiction and rich with radness)
- Ender’s Game (with obligatory field trip to the movie, of course)
- Harrison Bergeron (short stories are my cup of tea)
- A Study in Scarlet (Holmes’ analysis is a running thread that I hope to capture throughout the year — investigating all possible angles of a scenario or text)
I’d also like to share some of the awesome adaptations of this story — the BBC Sherlock episode, “A Study in Pink,” is definitely on the agenda and, if I can swing it, some of the excellent radio drama, also produced by the BBC.

Unit 2: Holocaust
proposed texts
- Maus (this graphic novel just slays me)
- Night
- Diary of a Young Girl (I think this will go so well with Maus and Night, just deeply poignant, personal recollections of what it means to suffer)

Unit 3: Civil Rights and Disobedience
proposed texts
- On Civil Disobedience
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- The Outsiders
- Anthem (or maybe We, instead)
- The Watsons go to Birmingham (I’m kind of meh about this one)

The basic strand that I like to think connects these units is the idea that a person is powerful. So, we start the year with heroes, but not entirely canonical heroes. Of course, there’s Superman, but I want to explore him as not just a dude in tights, but also as a role model. My goal is for this unit to inspire the students to make powerful comparisons throughout the entire school year — contrasting how Ender may have approached a situation or using the analytical prowess of Holmes to deduce the best solution.

After giving the kids a taste of primarily benevolent power, I want to have them turn that power into something dark and approach the Holocaust. I’ll have to work closely with the Humanities teacher to make this work well, but I want to have the kids do some serious soul-searching here. I also think it would be incredible if we wrote a biographical research paper and some obituaries for either the characters we encounter or a fictional everyman.

The third unit, on Civil Rights and Disobedience, is one that I’ve always wanted to teach. I want to engage kids in thoughtfully and respectfully challenging authority. I think it will be excellent to present this unit right after the horrors of exploring the Holocaust. The goal here is to move past the feeling of helplessness that it’s easy to fall into after learning about genocide. I want to help the kids learn to push back, to advocate for themselves and for others.

I’m by no means finished with this curriculum. It’s rough around the edges and I haven’t included any poetry or drama, yet. I’ve got loads of nonfiction texts that I want to include as well, in line with Common Core.

The big issue that I haven’t touched is the kind of “classic” expectations of 8th grade ELA. I’m worried that pushing the kids to think critically won’t be enough — do they have to read the same boring books that I read in 8th grade? I hope not! But, I’m concerned that I will do them a disservice if I don’t expose them to Johnny Tremain and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I actually love historical fiction, but so much of it is poorly written junk!

Wow! This beautiful video shares footage of the world from space with excellent music and occasional narration from former astronauts. More videos are available and I can’t wait to share them with my kiddos!

These will go perfectly as a writing prompt intro to our work this semester with Ender’s Game. These videos were inspired by former astronaut Michael Collins’ experiences, as written in his book Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys. I’ve already got it on hold at the library and I might just have to add this great piece of nonfiction to my class’s exploration of science fiction literature.