Insight and autonomy work very well together

During my first few years of teaching, several of my colleagues (most notably Pat Smith, Mike Hibbs, and Dan McMahon) were extremely instrumental in helping me over daily bumps in the road. They shared syllabi, notes, and advice that came from years of experience.

A common exchange that would happen in the hall between classes, more than daily, would start with me asking one of them, “What do you do with ____________?” I had read something they had suggested I use in class but was certain I didn't have enough to keep things going for an entire class period.

In just a couple of minutes, whoever I was asking would mention several key moments and what was so significant about them. The word significant was never stated but came to be understood as it relates to what may be important or interesting or surprising to teenage boys. They had the experience and practice and had seen it work.

What worked so well for me was that they were basically breaking down each lesson to its core and the path that each reading led to it. There was no need to tell students that they were about to learn theme, characterization, or how to stand up to racism - let the story show them what each entails.

It wasn’t a script, just a suggestion and it was up to me to make it my own for my students. They gave insight and autonomy, a simple recipe that often leads to success.

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