The songlines

Last year, I occasionally put an extra-credit question on reading quizzes that I thought were difficult, and a question I used several times was something like “What song or piece of music, in your opinion, best expresses the emotion of this chapter/book of the Odyssey/section of the reading?”  Pretty much any answer was okay as long as they connected it to what they had read–e.g., Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for Book 1 of the Odyssey, because Telemachus receives a call to action from Athena and has to put aside his conviction that his father will never come home.  Sometimes I’d play them a song that had come up on several people’s quizzes.  (And by the way, isn’t it amazing that kids born as late as 1995 know that Journey song?  They say it’s because it’s a stadium anthem.)

I’ve been using that question again this year, and I’ve taken the further step of actually creating a playlist of some of the most suggested (and most appropriate) songs, burning a CD and playing it intermittently in class–sometimes as the students are coming in, sometimes during the break, and occasionally for all of us to listen to at once.  And whereas last year I thought of these questions as an amusing diversion, this year I actually believe that they have significant pedagogical value.  They can’t answer them properly if they haven’t read and understood the text to some extent, and when they hear the music, they remember what they heard and what emotion it represented.  Beyoncé’s “Halo” was a popular choice for Book 5, in which Odysseus leaves Calypso, is shipwrecked by Poseidon, protected by Athena, and then saved by Leucothea’s immortal scarf.  We spent a few minutes in class listening to the song, a few minutes more discussing why it did or didn’t match the book, and now even I remember better what happens in that book. 

So this year’s Starfleet teaching seems to be going really well.  I totally underestimated the value of getting a full year under my belt and becoming a known quantity within the school.  I have a confidence I didn’t have last year that comes from knowing the rhythm of the year and the kinds of issues that come up; the students have more confidence in me because, you know, I have a rep.  I don’t know exactly what that rep is, but I’m noticing a lot less anxiety from the students about the honors class being hard.  It might be partly that last year’s students are telling them, “Sure, a lot of people get B’s and C’s at first, but then you figure out what she wants, and you do better”; it might also be partly that I know that a lot of people will go from low B’s to A-minuses, and so I’m exuding that confidence. 

Maddie, one of the new teachers, is still figuring all this out, and though I think she’s doing a great job, you can tell that some of her students feel like they don’t quite get her yet.   It’s hard to be new.  I find myself hoping that she will be encouraged by successes along the way and not decide she doesn’t like this high-school teaching thing. 

Went to a reading by some of our NLNRU students at a local bookstore.  One of my students from this semester’s class read, and she did a great job.  I think she’s the strongest writer I’ve had at NLNRU so far.  I’m going to try to get her to go to a conference this summer–I’d love to see her get a scholarship to go somewhere and work with some new people. 

This has been another very full week.  I guess they all are now.  Some of the time I feel very proud of the sheer amount of work I am doing and how good I think most of it is.  Some of the time I think I am relying on Stubb and the Snork Maiden to get along without me too much–I’m out two to four nights a week lately, including the one on which Stubb and I go out and leave the Snork Maiden with Miz P.  They can get along without me, but should they have to?


One response to this post.

  1. Fabulous idea about the songs, one I’ll be borrowing when we hit The Odyssey in December !

    And yes, what a difference a year makes. And what another difference (although smaller) another year makes. I’m finding the third year so much easier in so many ways, even though I’ve got a more hectic schedule this fall.


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