Posted in Curriculum, Humanities, Learning, Presentation, Students, Teaching

Sometimes the Hardest Things are the Easiest

When I was just a wee lad growing up in Lebanon, NH, I used to sit and watch my grandparents and parents spend hours playing this bizarre game they called Cribbage.  It seemed so strange to me back then.  You have cards and move pegs on a wooden board.  What?  At first it seemed so boring to me.  My grandmother would sit in one spot for hours doing nothing but moving plastic pegs around on a board and saying strange things like 15-2.  Back then, I would usually watch my grandparents play for few seconds before I grew bored and played with my Matchbox cars.  Then, as I grew older, more sophisticated, and a bit smarter, I started paying more attention to when my elder family members played this weird game.  Then, one day I asked my grandmother to teach me how to play.  So, she did.  It turns out that this once cryptic game was actually quite easy to play once I learned it.  Years later, I’m still fascinated by this game and often find myself sitting, for hours, moving plastic pegs on a board, happier than a clam in its shell.  I realized, that what I once thought would be too hard for me to do turned out to be quite easy when I tried it.  Sometimes, the hardest things can actually end up being the easiest things to do.

My goal for today’s Humanities class was to introduce my students to our next class read-aloud 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose.  As this is a play and set in a time with which the students are unfamiliar, I was worried that they might not be interested.  I thought that perhaps they will find this play boring and won’t at all be engaged or excited about acting out their assigned parts.  In the past, some of my students have dreaded this activity when it was introduced.  They didn’t see the relevance.  While they always did come around once we got into reading the play, they were not always super excited at first.  So this year, I made sure to think about how I would structure my introductory comments on the play.  I wanted to be sure that all of the students were inspired to focus on reading the play in class.  I prepared numerous slides to provide the students with background knowledge on the play and the context of the history in which it is set.  I wanted to make sure that they understood the idea of America’s judicial system, how it works, and the type of court cases decided by juries.  I went into today’s class a bit nervous but feeling prepared to introduce my students to 12 Angry Men in a relevant and exciting manner.  I was ready to motivate and excite my students, no matter how hard it might be.  I was willing to put in the effort.

Then came the lesson.  I started out by telling the students how we haven’t taught this play in the sixth grade for two years because we haven’t felt like we’ve had a group that could handle such a mature storyline and challenging task, until this year.  At this point, the boys started to sit up a bit straighter in their chairs.  Perhaps they were trying to show me how sophisticated they are.  I then started explaining what the play is about and how we will read it in the class.  “Each of you will be assigned a different role.  Some will have more lines than others, but everyone will need to play his role very well in order for this activity to be successful.”  This seemed to excite some of the boys as they realized that they would all be partaking in the reading of this play.  I then explained how they will have the option to act out the scenes according to the stage directions.  Several smiles filled the room when I told them that.  I could almost see their mental wheels turning.  They were thinking about how they might act out their parts.  They seemed genuinely excited, and I hadn’t even gotten to my other slides on the background information regarding the play.  As I could see how excited the boys were about the play, I started sharing some of my excitement with them.  “What I love about this play is the different types of characters included.  Reginald Rose crafted very different and unique characters.  Some of you will have lines that you will need to shout out while a few of you will have to say some naughty words.”  After I shared this tidbit with them, they were all hooked.  The class broke out in chatter and excitement.  They couldn’t hold it in any longer.  They were pumped to start reading this play.  I could have stopped my introduction right then and there and I would have been fine.  But don’t worry, I didn’t.  I kept going to make sure that each of my students had the context needed to comprehend the play that we will begin reading in class tomorrow.  At the end of the period, I handed each student a copy of the play along with their assigned role so that they could peruse their lines and be prepared for tomorrow.  I wanted them to feel comfortable as we read the play aloud together in class.  Well, when I did this, you would have thought that I was giving the students $100 bills.  They couldn’t open their copy of the play fast enough.  They started reading and finding their lines.  At the start of the next period, I had to remind students to keep their copy of the play in their cubby so that it wasn’t a distraction as several of the students were trying to read it during STEM class.  Yes!  I was so excited by how enthusiastic the class seemed about the play.

Despite all of my hard work and preparation, what I thought would be a hard and difficult task ended up being super easy.  So, I didn’t need to stress, worry, or be nervous about my lesson today, but I didn’t know that.  I was prepared for the worst as I wanted to be sure every student was ready and prepared to start reading the play tomorrow in class.  I had many inspirational and fun things to say about the play, but really only needed a few.  As this year’s class loves reading and enjoys doing things together as a group, just telling them what we are going to do was enough of a build up to get them excited about the activity.  It’s funny how sometimes reflection or over-thinking something can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety.  I was so worried about getting my students excited about the play that I forgot to remember how much this class loves to read and work together.  Because I was so focused on preventing what happened in the past from happening again, I was unable to see what I already knew.  I didn’t need to spend hours preparing this elaborate introductory lesson, I just needed to show the students the play and tell them that we would be reading it together as a class.  That would have been enough.  I find it so interesting how things that at first glance seem hard, end up being super easy, and how easy things can sometimes end up being a lot harder than than one thinks.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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