For some reason as I was considering returning to blogging and reflecting on the past few months and what I might say about them, I thought of Samwise Gamgee at the end of LOTR as he returns from the Grey Havens, having said goodbye to Frodo and Gandalf and the journey:
But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.
Tolkien, The Return of the King
There’s nothing like stating the obvious when you have a lot on your mind and don’t know quite what else to say, Sam.
Of course I haven’t been to the Grey Havens or Mordor or anything so dramatic–but I did go to World Youth Day in Poland this past summer as a chaperone for some of my students, and I began a new position at my school this fall as an instructional coach, in addition to teaching junior American Literature for the first time in years and tackling a brand new course: Christian Authors.
I’ll start with that last part, and maybe work in some reflections on the other developments in my teaching life if they seem like they would be helpful to other teachers to share.
One of my biggest challenges this past semester was developing the curriculum (that’s a fancy way of saying “making stuff up on the fly”) for a new course I had never taught before. It was a senior elective called “Christian Authors”, and I am teaching it again this semester to a new group of kids (some juniors and sophomores as well). Really what I had to go on was the title of the course and the sense I wanted to expose the kids to a blend of theology and literature that they would not be getting from their core classes.
Lots of people said to me as I was worrying about it this past summer, “But Maura, this course is perfect for you! You get to choose whatever books you want them to read! It’s a way for you, as an English teacher, to teach theology!”
Yet this lack of formal curriculum and the freedom “to choose whatever books I wanted” was the overwhelming part. And since so many of the authors we explored are very near and dear to my heart, I was a lot more emotionally invested in the student responses than I usually am. In the core classes, it does not particularly cut me to the quick if the kids don’t like essay writing or reading the Romantics.
But if they hate Flannery O’Connor, well….
The other complication is that although this course is an elective, many kids who sign up for it do not do so out of a desire for literature and theology–they take it because nothing else fits in their schedule due to our limited elective offerings this year. So you have kids with extremely varying interest and skill levels taking a course that, ideally, should demand a lot from them. And most of them are seniors. Many of whom have a strange idea that their senior year ought to be easier than the legendarily brutal junior year.
So I had to take all that into account when making up the course.
But there was a lot that went very well last semester–and I am planning on learning from my mistakes and making some significant changes for this semester.
I am keeping the general structure. I organized the course around three big ideas–or really, what I called “persistent concerns”–issues that most Christian authors of merit need to wrestle with in their works:
Unit 1: The Sacramental Approach to Reality
Unit 2: Metanoia and the Ladder of Love
Unit 3: The Problem of Pain
Then I tried to begin each unit with an enticing question that the kids had to wrestle with that tied into the big idea of the unit–and that they used the texts we read to help them answer. That approach worked particularly well in Unit 3.
My next few posts will be unpacking those units and how they went–and how I plan to improve them for this next group.
Christian Authors round 2 begins on Monday. Stay tuned!