One of the classes I teach is Grade Nine English. Other than my Art classes, (I am passionate about the visual arts) I think this is my most satisfying class. The students are old enough to think more abstractly, and because I also teach Grade Seven and Eight English, I know what they have been taught and therefore have a fairly good idea how the class will navigate through new concepts and topics taught in grade nine.
My students know that I approach English through reading, writing, as well as speaking and non-verbal communication. By the end of grade nine, I have done my best to not only prepare them for the academic rigours of high school, but to equip them to have strong communication skills as they will soon be thinking about part-time jobs and other teenage social situations.
When it comes to technology, I am for the most part, “old-school”. While I encourage them to make use of the most up-to-date technology when creating presentations, doing research, and writing (in Times New Roman, 12 point font, and double-spaced of course), I do not allow my students to use technology devices of any kind during class. No music listening, dictionary apps, selfie-taking, text-talking takes place during our every second-day, 85 minute long scheduled class. I’m horrible, I know. Instead, students are required to look up unknown words by using a paper dictionary (gasp!) and speak and write without slang (no gonna, shoulda, cuz, not even stuff). While I am clearly able to see the positive benefits of teaching in my device-free class, the students do not seem to agree. I have implemented strict consequences should a student ever consider sneaking using a device in class. I know that some reading this may be thinking that of course there are students who will use their device anyway (I have listened to many imaginative and creative reasons; I appear to have taught them well in this area), but I can sincerely share that while my students may be very unhappy, or even miserable at times from withdrawal, I firmly believe that they respect themselves and myself enough to follow my archaic rules.
Today however, I did something different.
Today, I said “Yes”.
The majority of my students were away on an overnight camping trip as part of their Bronze award level in The Duke of Edinburgh program. That left six students, and because I did not want the others to fall behind, I chose to let them work on their own. They were all focused in and working quietly when one of the students, a boy who rarely speaks during class, put his hand up.
“May we listen to music while we are working?”
I looked at him for a moment while the others appeared to be staring at him with pity…they knew what my response would be.
“Yes, you may.”
The room stopped breathing. While I had expected the others to follow him out they sat still; ten eyes watched him walk out and back in with his earphones. He got back to work.
It took two or three minutes before the next student inquired shakily, “May I listen to music?”
One after another, they asked and I responded, for the first time all year, probably the first time since grade seven, “YES.”
I will not be surprised if this goes down in history as one of those school moments they will never, ever, forget.
“Do you remember the day she said, “yes”?
I love my students…even if they think I’m old and archaic in some of my approaches to English class.