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Why tutoring students for the past year has renewed my appreciation of American teachers



… I discovered such creative approaches that teachers are using


A little more than a decade ago, I talked with a former student of mine who had been teaching English for many years. One of my college students had credited her in an essay with providing the young woman with a love of writing poetry when she was in high school.

The young woman continued her love of poetry and is still writing it, and I was so pleased that my former student had motivated her to reach such lofty goals and stimulated her creativity.

However, instead of being pleased with that praise, the teacher said something like this that stuck with me,

Unfortunately, we are no longer allowed to teach poetry and those creative classes. Now, our only goal is to teach students how to take multiple-choice tests.

Conversation from 2009

Ah, yes, the wrath of No Child Left Behind. Do not teach students how to think. Just show them how to figure out the infamous multiple-choice puzzle.

That was disheartening.

Then, in my last years of teaching at the college level, I discovered that I was teaching students who had taken an AP English in high school but had no clue how to write essays.

Worse, they were sometimes receiving college credit, yet had no idea how to write an effective college essay, and I was teaching them research writing despite their not having a solid foundation in writing. .

I was further disheartened.

Today, after almost a year of tutoring students at various levels, from graduate level to college to high school to middle school, at schools across the U.S. and into Canada, my confidence in the American teacher and the educational system has been restored. No longer are they being forced to just teach their students how to take multiple-choice tests.

Instead, I have discovered some absolutely fabulous educators who are providing some great, intellectually-stimulating assignments to their students.

Covid created some great challenges, but the teachers have continued to provide students with intellectual and developmental sustenance that is very impressive.

What has restored my faith in education

Therefore, if I am writing an essay with a thesis, I have to provide evidence to support my argument. Here is some of that.


First, I have discovered that most teachers are still assigning students the classics. This starts with William Shakespeare and then goes to more contemporary classical writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, George Orwell, and Edith Wharton. It also includes writers from earlier times like Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice,” and many others.

It also included a more contemporary poetic novel that I loved, but some find controversial, called “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo. A number of my students loved this.

However, what really restored my faith in the educators is that so many are teaching poetry and providing creative assignments.

Writing creative eulogies and sonnets

One of my favorite assignments from a teacher was the one who asked the students to write a dialogue from “The Merchant of Venice” in the form of a Shakespearian sonnet. This was a great tutoring session because I had to encourage the student to write her argument about why Shylock should have been outraged about the “pound of flesh” but had to do it in a sonnet that rhymed (though it did not have to use iambs).


Another one that asked the students to write a eulogy about the loss of something in their childhoods. It was based on the original reading of “Catcher in the Rye,” and my student wrote a heart-warming story about the loss of a friend in her earlier years. The loss was simply moving away from him, but it was creative and developed the writing skills of this young woman very effectively.

These are just two of the very creative assignments that my students have received.

One disheartening situation

Probably more than half of my students are in honors, AP, or IB classes, or they are working hard to qualify to enter those elite programs. One student told me in August that her goal was to be enrolled in a freshman honors course, and we set out to accomplish that. By mid-year, she had improved so much that her guidance counselor told that she could enroll in that honors class for the second semester.


She was thrilled. I had showed her the rudiments of effective writing, and she had mastered that part so well that she was able to move forward and reach one of her dreams.


However, I have one concern since much of my tutoring has focused on teaching students organizational skills, particularly outlining. I have found that a few teachers do not require any kind of outline for an essay. My job, then, is to teach these students how to use the old conventional outline, and so many of them learn that it works so well.

However, few of these disheartening situations have occurred. Instead, I have just been excited to see what creative ways the educators are teaching students. Granted, most of my teaching has been in English, although I have also done some tutoring in history. Therefore, I cannot talk about how well the science or math teachers are doing, but extrapolating what I have seen, American teachers are doing a great job.


In fact, my reading list for the winter and spring includes many novels — and short stories — that I am reading agaub or for the first time, and this has pleased me tremendously.


The Covid pandemic hurt the writing skills of many students since most schools were never prepared for remote instruction. However, they have recovered very well, and from my perspective, are doing a fabulous job.


My reading list from Winter/Spring 2022


Many of these novels, plays, and short stories were ones that I had to read for the first time, or read again, because my students were reading or writing about them.


To Be Read, Reading

  • “Ellen Foster” by Kaye Gibbons, reading

  • “Accidental” by Alex Richards, reading

  • “Night” by Elie Wiesel, reading—banned book

  • “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, reading.

  • “Cry, the Beloved Country” by Bryce Stephenson, reading

  • “Maus” by Art Spiegelman-- banned book

  • “Something More: Reflections on a Bountiful Life” by Dr. Alexander Kalenak

  • “The Giver” by Lois Lowry

  • “Augie: Stalag Luft VI to the Major Leagues” by John Bacchia

  • “Lives on the Boundary” by Mike Rose

  • “Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion

  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

  • “Disastrous Floods and the Demise of Steel in Johnstown” by Pat Farabaugh

  • “The Ku Klux Klan in Pennsylvania: A Study in Nativism” by Emerson Hunsberger Loucks


Read, Winter/Spring

  • “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, done, Re-read

  • “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, done, first time

  • “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, done, R

  • “Slaughterhouse-5” by Kurt Vonnegut, done R

  • “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton, done, R

  • “The House on Mango Street,” by , done first time

  • “Dracula” by Brad Stocker, done.

To Be Read or Are Currently Reading


Shakespeare


“Othello” — done Read

“The Merchant of Venice” — done, R

“Midsummer Night’s Dream” — currently, R

“Much Ado About Nothing” — currently, R

“Romeo and Juliet” — currently, R

“The Tempest” — done, R

“Julius Caesar” — currently


Short Stories (a partial list)

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, done

  • “The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson, done

  • “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl, done

  • “The Pomegranate Seeds” by Nathanial Hawthorne, done

  • “Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, R

  • “Night Calls” by Lisa Fugard, done

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