Posts from William Johnson
November 14, 2012
Under the Common Core, English teachers are told that for every unit we spend on “The House on Mango Street,” we must spend another on texts that are less rich and less complex. We are instructed not to teach the literary elements that make deep, complex writing possible. In the end, we are required to emphasize the most basic and superficial aspect of written communication — the simple transmission of information — at the expense of all the elements that make students want to read “The Hunger Games” rather than watch reality television. (more…)
April 23, 2012
My ninth-graders and I are still working our way through “Romeo and Juliet.” I’ve taught this play before. For the most part, I’m using lessons I’ve used before, just tweaking them to suit my new students. I’m not being lazy. I’m being smart. My lessons are good and I know they work.
In the middle of (more…)
March 19, 2012
Earlier this month, my ninth-graders read the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet.” Whenever I teach Shakespeare, I like to have my students do some acting. When I teach the balcony scene, I push the students to take this process very seriously. I look for enthusiastic volunteers who can read the lines with aplomb. This (more…)
February 27, 2012
My ninth-graders recently finished reading “Of Mice and Men.” This is my third consecutive year teaching the novel and I imagine I’ll be teaching it for years to come. The students love it. Something about George and Lennie’s plight resonates with them, even though a ranch in 1930s Salinas, Calif., seems a world apart from (more…)
February 6, 2012
What makes a great teacher? To a lot of people, the answer seems simple enough: a great teacher is one whose students achieve. For the most part these days, student success is measured with test scores. Logically then, a great teacher is one whose students perform well on tests.
Let’s take it a step further: what (more…)
January 6, 2012
2011 was a wild year for New York City teachers. Cathie Black’s brief reign, the mayor’s aggressive layoff threats, attacks on tenure and seniority, and the the continued push to shut down public schools often left us stressed, confused, and paranoid. Given all this, as 2011 moved towards its conclusion, I felt like I’d grown a pretty (more…)
November 28, 2011
“A teacher in struggle is also teaching.” Lately, this phrase has been on my mind.
On Nov. 17, I marched with the Wall Street occupiers and thousands of other New Yorkers. We were protesting the occupation’s eviction from Zuccoti Park and proclaiming that the movement was as alive as ever. I cannot claim any deep involvement (more…)
November 2, 2011
It doesn’t matter what subject you teach; every lesson contains at least one frightening transition. After the teacher presents the day’s new content and gives instructions to the students about the day’s activity, he or she says the magic words: “Get started.” It’s like a step into the abyss.
On the best days, 75-85 percent of (more…)
October 12, 2011
Confession: I didn’t like high school. I went to a good school, in a highly ranked district on Long Island. I liked some of my classes, I had some great teachers and some good friends, but on the whole, school was not something that I enjoyed.
Mostly, I just resented having to be there. I liked (more…)