Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Teaching Strategies: The Pan Dance and a Bloody Leg

Once again, through the magic of Facebook, I've been reconnecting with some former students who have been reminding me about some of my more innovative strategies in teaching them. Innovative meaning that I didn't know what the crap I was doing, because it was my first year.

For instance, the Pan dance.

I love Greek mythology. I have since elementary school. I loved reading the stories from Robert Graves' Greek Gods and Heroes. And one of the units I taught to the 9th graders that first year was on Greek mythology. But I didn't want to lecture them. I didn't want it to bore them to tears. So I made it storytime, much like the ancient Greeks would have had. I told them the stories of the gods and their interaction with the humans. Nothing on the board, just pulling out a chair and telling them. The kids loved the stories about Zeus doing whatever he could to get with a human woman, because they were 9th graders and they're hormones on legs. But one god they could never get their heads around was Pan. Even when I described him as a half goat half man who danced around with Pan pipes, there was still difficulty. So in a flash of genius and/or lack of pride, I jumped up out of my chair and putting my fingers to my head like horns, proceeded to leap about my classroom, making what can only be described as noises like a dying goat in an imitation of pan pipes. I think the kids understood, even if they could never get the image of Mr. Wilson's Pan Dance out of their heads.

One more first year teacher first day story. As a first year teacher, you have NO idea how long it will take to say something and generally when I'm nervous I talk really fast. So my first day of teaching, I have what's called a creative writing rotation for 7th graders and then 8th graders. In an attempt to round out their education as much as possible the kids went to certain classes for 4 or 6 weeks and then moved to another one; hence rotation. In my school day I had 7th grade first, then 8th grade. Well, for the 7th grade, I gave my opening schpeil and we had about 5 minutes left in the period, so I could let them talk quietly, which 7th graders are so scared out of their minds that first day that they're almost petrified. 8th graders are not. They've been at MLK for a year and they know the ropes and they can get at young teachers. Add to that that the rotation period was longer and there were more of them than the 7th graders and it was a recipe for disaster. I finished my opening schpeil with them and there were 15 MINUTES left in the period. Oh crap what now... Well, since this was a creative writing class, I could have them write, but what? What could I do?

So in another flash of desperation I went to a standup cabinet that the previous teacher had left, looking for anything that would inspire me. And in it were a worn down leather basketball, a rusty steak knife, and what must have been an old mannequin leg with fake blood and a sock on it (I later learned it had been used in a drunk driving set up the previous year). And so, I brought them out and said over the rising cacophony, "OK, get out a piece of paper. For the rest of the time today, you are to write a story and this rusty steak knife, beat up basketball, and bloody leg must appear in it somewhere." As you might imagine, some of the stories that came out of that session were very... um, interesting, and creative. Sometimes the leg stayed a mannequin's leg, sometimes it was real. Sometimes it had a life of its own. And with that, another legend was born. I must have heard about that basketball, steak knife, and leg until I quit teaching, and I think Sheryl and I gave that leg as a Dirty Santa gift at some point.

3 comments:

Suzie said...

These stories make me miss teaching...oh the dreaded lesson plan that is too short! Your fillers were great...and the difference between seventh and eighth graders...I remember it well. One of my former students works for me, and she keeps telling me all these things I did that I don't remember at all. Thanks for sharing!

judy thomas said...

Sounds like Dead Poet's Society to me. Loved it. Judy

Amy said...

Love the stories! And I bet those kids will always remember them. I would like to see a demo of the pan dance sometime.

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