My memory of the beginnings of my literacy is very faded. I have seen a piece of my work from kindergarten recently where I explained that I wanted to visit the ocean to see animals. I misspelled most of the words, but the effort was sincere and that’s why I’m proud of it. I remember writing a story in first grade called “The Big Shark” that was wildly successful in my class and impressed my teacher and my parents. It made me feel really accomplished. I remember in second grade being taught how to write in cursive. I remember practicing letters and the teacher explaining how the page should be tilted at a certain angle, but I didn’t quite understand why. It wasn’t long before I switched back to printing; probably sometime in middle school. In third grade we had a program where reading a certain number of books merited some sort of prize from pizza hut. It either had something to do with Star Wars: Episode One collectable items, pizza at reduced cost, or both. Probably it was both. I remember asking my teacher if I could read Barenstein Bear books because they were my favorite, but I remember her saying that we “don’t read Barenstein Bear books in third grade” and it made me feel embarrassed, especially because I had just moved into that class from another district. In third grade I also was introduced the presentation, which was something new for me at my new school, and I found the expectation that I’d stand up in front of the whole class to present something somewhat confusing. I did an oral book report on Grizzly Adams, and I remember the yellow cover of the book, exactly where I found it in the library, and my brown paper bag costume that I dressed up in. I was incredibly nervous. I remember doing another book report that year that I struggled quite a bit with because maybe I couldn’t understand it fully, but for sure I was nervous to present, and insecure with my memorization of the details to cover, so I tried to make notes taped on the back of the book as I presented, but I think the class took that as cheating. I remember many individual presentations that I delivered in my school days, probably because they made me so nervous and afraid of messing up and being judged.
I remember being more confident in sixth grade with my oral book report on Holes, and my teacher was so sweet, caring, and understanding. I felt more confident in that class. I remember drilling vocabulary and reading Greek mythology in seventh grade; that vocabulary I remember mostly because of rehearsal methods we were doing in class. By methods I just basically mean traditional rehearsal and fill-in -the-blank exercises. I remember similar vocabulary endeavors in eighth grade, but mostly the poem by Robert Frost that I needed to memorize, which was the first time I was asked to explicitly memorize in a rote way. I also remember all of the comma rules we went over and loved it for its comprehensiveness. In ninth grade, I was in honors English for the first time, which I found intimidating. I was also intimidated by my other classmates who seemed to find the class easy and got the understanding they were supposed to from the Merchant of Venice. Honors English in tenth had world literature, which I enjoyed, but still found myself in this uncomfortable space in class where I had more questions than the class seemed to be interested in addressing. I say the class because even though it was the teacher who would answer them, and even if we had the time for it, many other classmates of mine seemed to find my questions annoying and time-consuming. I remember becoming incredibly frustrated by this, being made to feel like my questions were unimportant. I remember the class being particularly frustrated with my question about why it had been the apple that was the gift at the mythological wedding instead of something else. “Who cares?” the class sighed in exasperation. I remember being really frustrated also with understanding Omar Khayaam’s poetry, even through I really wanted to. Once I was riding in the car with my Mom with my fat literature textbook in hand and got so fed up with how the messages were so unclear. She asked me simply to read a stanza, and I remember her offering a few straightforward ideas about what it could mean, and instantly my face stopped looking so twisted when I realized that it didn’t have to be so hard - that meaningful interpretations didn’t need to be as locked away as I felt they were. In 11th grade I remember more vocabulary drills, which the rest of the class seemed to simply stomach rather than appreciate, but I didn’t mind. I also remember a teacher I became good friends with - this was probably in part because she smiled and her eyes got excited whenever I asked questions. None of my fellow students seemed to ask anything. I remember in twelfth grade having a devil’s-advocate-type question that asked everyone to consider how the antagonist felt in Grendel and why it might feel that it needed to act in an evil way. I felt really proud about by ability to bring about a new perspective that wouldn’t normally be considered.
From having recalled my past experiences, I’m imaging that certain tendencies in my teaching emerged from my experience as a student. I don’t like giving group work because I myself don’t like it much, probably because of how I felt different with my unconventional questions and slow reading. I hesitate to find creative ways to teach vocabulary, because I found rehearsal and discussion to be effective and efficient for me as a learner. I’m also hesitant to give too many individual presentations and oral book reports because of how nervous they made me feel. So, aside from these deep-dark-secret-traditionally-minded biases, a more decidedly positive outcome of my educational background is the sincere motivation to address literacy-related endeavors rather than straight content. I love discussing reading strategies, looking at word roots and connections, investigating how the sentence and paragraph structure is designed in a writing, theorizing about why authors chose certain words or literary devices, and asking out-of-the-box questions that contribute to gleaning the most understanding from text. For the most part, I also value all the questions that students bring up in class as well, because I certainly remember how it felt to have them as a student. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a good thing that I’m inclined to teach in a way that fits how I was as a student, but at least I can acknowledge that it has provided me with a profile of certain pedagogical motivations that are quite genuine.