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Three Words Can Save The Drowning First Year Lit Teacher

Briefly allow me to oversimplify everything.

The first year lit teacher often goes off the skids because he is intimidated by the sight of blank lesson plans. The first year lit teacher is commonly given to reinventing the wheel, stressing himself out, staying up until all hours of the morning inventing little projects, finding obscure commentaries, compiling quotes for handouts and so forth. The first year teacher thinks the lesson plans need to look interesting in and of themselves. They don’t. Lesson plans should be boring and vague.

Four out of five lessons plans ought to be no more than three words long. Read and discuss.

You won’t know what pages you’re going to read and discuss because you don’t know how long the discussion is going to go. If you’re teaching classically, you’re going to follow the discussion where it wants to go. This means that some days, you will cover ten pages of the text, and other days you will cover a mere ten words.

Read and discuss. Pick up where you left off yesterday, and read aloud until you come to something interesting. When you come to that interesting thing, stop reading, and say, “That’s interesting,” and then ask a moral question about it. Teaching a book is not so much different than reading a book. You read it for a bit, you put it down. You think about it. You come back to it later. I’ve been teaching for ten years and my game plan is virtually the same today as it was the day I started, back when I hadn’t read anything and didn’t know anything.

There is no point in “staying a chapter ahead of the students.” Just admit you haven’t read the book and enjoy the surprises alongside your students. Make wagers about what will happen and then be wrong.

The first year lit teacher simply won’t have time to read the whole year’s curriculum before he starts teaching. That’s fine. The first year lit teacher is, I pray, familiar with the experience of reading a book for the first time, loving it and thinking about it and talking about it with others. If you can read a book for the first time on your own and love it and be changed by it, you can do it in front of a class. There are plenty of books that have changed you deeply which you’ve only read once. Turning that experience into a little drama you play out in front of a small audience is really no big deal.

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