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The Graduate

Januaryóhalf way done

Katelyn Phelan
MSM Class of 2011

(1/2012) January means a new month and a new year. For me, though, it marks a different milestone, the middle of a year instead of the beginning of one. The arrival of January means the school year, my first year of teaching, is half-way over. It also means mid-term examinations have arrivedójust three days for six tests which cover everything from August to January. If the prospect of this isnít horrifying to you, itís probably because youíve blocked memories of doing this yourself.

As a high school student, I dreaded mid-terms. I felt like I needed to study for them over Christmas break, which was probably unnecessary, but it always loomed over me and kept me from completely enjoying myself. Studying was a days long proposition and there always came a point when I just wanted to take the test and get it over with, not matter what the result. That actually was never true, no matter what I told myself I cared a lot about what my grade was. Happily this year, I donít have to study for mid-terms, just make, administer, and grade them.

Actually, as a teacher itís kind of nice to make a mid-term up. I like seeing all of the information weíve covered in class and all the things my students have learned. For example, in ninth grade English weíve read selections from the Odyssey, all of Animal Farm, and four short stories: "The Most Dangerous Game," "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Scarlet Ibis," and "The Gift of the Magi." We have learned 80 vocabulary words as well as parts of speech. Weíve written four papers, too. Itís a nice feeling to see what weíve done. Itís also good to take stock and see what we still need to done do.

I havenít yet made my ninth grade English mid-term exam, but Iím sure itís going to take me hours to do. The last two tests Iíve created, Iíve spent hours working on. Even "easy" questions, like simple, multiple choice objective questions, seem to take a while to make because you have to think of 4 different options. Critical thinking questions take even longer to write. I consider my last two tests works of art because of how they turned out. They featured a mixture of identifications, multiple choice, matching, and short answer questions. I donít think the students shared my enthusiasm for the beauty of my tests.

After I write the test, check over it for mistakes, though Iíve been having limited success with finding them. I hate making mistakes on my tests. I also take the whole test, including writing out the essay or short answer questions so I have a key to check the studentsí tests.

I havenít made my creative writing mid-term either, though for them it is more like a final. Creative writing is only a semester-long course, so mid-January these kids go on to take some other class and I get a new set of creative writers. Iím excited to start that course over again, because Iíve thought of some new ideas and projects which I think will be fun to add to the class.

In that class Iíve tended to provide a series of examples and then the students have to write something of their own based on that topic. For example, we read poems dealing with pop culture and myth, including poems about Smokey the Bear, Lotís wife, Hansel and Gretel, and the boy who put his finger is the dike in Holland. After reading famous poems that deal with these themes, the students have to write their own. The last group wrote poems about superman, Casablanca, and Alice in Wonderland.

For the poetry unit Iíve decided to add a Dante assignment. We will read in class a few cantos of Danteís famous epic poem, the Inferno, which is a poem about traveling through hell and seeing various groups of sinners in their eternal punishment. The poem is filled with vivid imagery, or language which conjures in the readers head very vivid images of what is happening. The poem is very descriptive, and wonderfully creative. One of the fascinating things that Dante did was include people he knew personally and famous people he only knew of, like popes and political leaders, in the circles of hell. After we read and discuss Dante, students will have an opportunity to mimic the famous Italian poet and create their own poem about hell. It should be an interesting assignment.

One of the assignments Iíll likely do again involved "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story was written in the early 1900s and is the first piece of feminist literature. Like with all the stories we read in class I tried to select an important element in the story, discuss it with the students, then create an assignment out of it. For this story, we focused on setting.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is about a woman who has post-partum depression/psychosis (though thatís not explicitly clear in the story) and is given the "rest cure" as her treatment. For some of you currently in desperate need of a break, this might sound like a pretty nice treatment, but let me finish explaining. This woman was instructed to at the home she and her husband were renting for a few months and do nothingóno cleaning, no working (this is sounding pretty good, right?), no reading, no writing (eh, not so enticing after all), no visiting with friends, and no leaving the house (restful or not, that seems like a rotten deal). The only thing she was allowed to do was wander around in the garden a little bit, but other than that, she was just instructed to "rest" all day.

In addition to this treatment plan, the woman was required to be subservient to her husband. She had to agree with his decisions and abide by them. For example, in their rental home he selected the room theyíd stay in, despite his wifeís voiced concerns that the room made her uncomfortable. It was covered in hideous yellow wallpaper which had loud and wild patterns all over it. Over a period of time, the womanís already somewhat unbalanced state grew worse from a combination of factors.

She could do absolutely nothing and was forced to abstain from things she wanted to do, like writing and reading. Not only this, but she was contained in a room that bothered her. The yellow wallpaper eventually dominated this poor womanís entire consciousnessóshe looked at it, she thought about it, she dreamt about it, and she obsessed over it. It eventually drove her into madness.

Clearly the setting in this story is of great importance. The setting, the room with yellow wallpaper, is what causes this woman to go mad. Without this setting, the story is completely different. The woman might recover, the story may not end badly, etc. But if she were placed in a field of flowers, for example, the story, character, and ending would be completely different. After reading this story the studentsí assignment was to create their own story where setting played an equally important role, where their story would be completely different if the setting were changed.

Iím excited to deal with these topics and assignments with a different set of creative writers, but more than that right now is excitement, relief, and happiness at being halfway done with my first year of teaching.

To read other articles by Katelyn Phelan visit the Authors section of Emmitsburg.net

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan