Teach & Serve No. 2 – “Skip to the Good Part”

Teach & Serve 

No. 2 * August 11, 2015


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Skip to the Good Part

It’s New Year’s Day in our schools! We could be having celebrations. Why do we often treat the first days of class like things to be dreaded, to be endured, to be gotten through?

I am an English teacher. Though I am not currently in a high school, not looking over my rosters and drawing up lesson plans, not picking out the “golden moments” of the novels I will teach nor conceiving how I’ll assist students on their roads to become better writers, I was in an English classroom for 23 years and I remain a teacher of English.

No matter what other title I take on or hat I wear, I’ll be proud my entire life that there is a group of women and men out there who remember me as an English teacher. That’s a very good feeling.

In Medias Res is a literary term I love to use with students. It’s one of my favorite literary devices. As you know, it means “into the middle of things” and I love stories that start in this fashion. I love narratives that throw the reader or audience right into the deep end and force them to sink or swim as events play out. There’s an energy that is generated in this approach – a momentum that is already established as the story begins and one can either resist it or get swept along, usually happily.

  • The Iliad and Paradise Lost start in the middle of their characters’ respective journeys.
  • The Godfather begins with Don Corleone in full and doesn’t explain how he became that way until later in the book.
  • The Hobbit jumps right in to “An Unexpected Party” without copious exposition about the dwarves who are about to plague Bilbo or just who this Gandalf might be.
  • There’s a reason that Episode IV: A New Hope was a lot better than Episode I: The Phantom Menace (honestly, there are about 1001 reasons why this is true…).

Whether you’re a twenty-year veteran or a new teacher taking on your first classroom, you are making resolutions. It’s New Year’s Eve for most teachers right now. You are contemplating the first unit, the first weeks, the first day of class. You’re making lists, checking them two times, three times, as many times as necessary to feel ready to roll on Day One.

Allow me to suggest that in medias res is a concept to consider as you begin your school year.

in medias resOne of the best things I am able to do when I consider a classroom is to think from the desk – the student desk that is. Though I know many of our classrooms are moving away from desks and moving towards more collaborative physical environments, kids will be sitting somewhere in front of you on Day One.

So, Think from the Desk.

What’s going on for those students? What’s happening in their Days One?

They’ve got five, six or seven classes (or more!). They’ve met and will continue to meet their new teachers. They have syllabi to review, log ins to create, books to open and texts to download. They’ve got seats to select, classmates to meet and cliques to negotiate. They’ve got an awful lot on their minds.

You do, too.

Consider this: what do your students need to know on their first day with you?

We’re programmed in Teacher School or by listening to mentors and emulating what we see around us (or, as likely, programmed by what was done to us when we were students) with specific requirements for the first day. Perhaps we’re even directed to accomplish certain tasks and we have things we want to get done on Day One.

Get them done. Accomplish them. Do them. But pare them down to the essentials, to what they really need to know on Day One.

Beyond those critical pieces, live Day One in medias res, because, hey, you’re going to have Day Two, Three, Four, Seventeen …

Jump into the middle of the story, the middle of the semester, the middle of the action.  Invite them in by refusing to allow them to refuse your invitation. Excite them with the possibilities of what you’ll do together by sharing an experience with them. Start in the middle of an experiment and backwards design your way out to an essential learning. Read the best part of a narrative with them and let them draw universal conclusions. Share a story about a pivotal moment in history that resonates with them right here, right now. Collaborate with them on any applied math concept that blows their minds. Treat the students like you know them already. Treat them like colleagues you’ve worked with before.

They hear teachers tell them about classes all the live-long day. You’ve got an opportunity here.

Instead of telling your students what this class is going to be like, show them.

Begin in medias res. Begin with your best stuff. Now’s the time.

It’s New Year’s Eve, folks. Plan your best celebration and roll it out. Day One.

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7 Comments

Filed under Education, Education Blog, First Day of Class, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Teacher, Teaching

7 responses to “Teach & Serve No. 2 – “Skip to the Good Part”

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