When high school teachers speak, Murray State University’s Department of English and Philosophy listens. The result of listening ears will begin to bloom on campus on Saturday, September 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a free professional development workshop that meets the timely needs of high school English teachers.
Associate Professor Julie Cyzewski, coordinator of the communication and planning process with Dr. Ray Horton, provided background information on the needs underlying the new initiative.
“Teachers are interested in talking to teachers and other teachers. They are looking for new ideas,” she said, adding that the September workshop will do just that.
• Teaching race and gender through literature
• Prepare students for academic writing and literary analysis
• Develop project-based assessment in high school and college
• Promote majors in the humanities
• Explore the expectations that English teachers have of first-year students and how students behave in relation to these expectations
With a focus on strategies and materials, professors from MSU’s Department of English and Philosophy will lead sessions on a range of topics, including:
According to Dr. Cyzewski, when students read and analyze literature in high school English classes, sensitive issues frequently arise.
“Our main goal is to help teachers lead a respectful discussion,” she said. “We’re asking MSU faculty to bring literary examples and we’ll discuss the value of exploring them.”
Amara Stroud, an MSU alumnus and Muhlenberg County High School English teacher, looks forward to the Sept. 10 sessions to help teach literature in an environment of heightened surveillance.
According to PEN America, parents, administrators and state legislators are trying to control the use of books that deal with sensitive topics, with “a sharp increase in both the number of banned books and the emphasis on books related to communities of color and LGBTQ+ topics.
“At some point, I will face controversy,” Stroud assumes, “but our system does a good job of mediating those discussions.”
Muhlenberg’s ninth graders read classics that Stroud describes as “old white guy stuff.” Standard texts include The Odyssey, in which a hero takes ten years to return home from the Trojan War with stops for extramarital banter; Romeo and Juliet, in which teenage lovers challenge their parents and reject family values with tragic results; and To Kill a Mockingbird, in which racism leads to a black man’s conviction for rape.
Stroud hopes the MSU workshop will provide suggestions for teaching required texts, as well as recommendations for additional readings that feature more diverse authors and more contemporary themes.
She admits that even old vigils can be seen as controversial, but explains: “I’m not trying to change mindsets.
“It is not the students who oppose it, but their parents. It’s just what’s happening in the world.
Taylor Page, an internship English major at MSU, will also participate in the September workshop. She hopes to learn more about the different approaches teachers and professors take in teaching writing. In the teacher observations she is currently conducting, she often sees writing being taught through specific formats.
“There are steps to follow, boxes to tick,” she notes. “I like it best when students use their own creativity and originality in writing.”
Amara Stroud appreciates Page’s writing concerns and adds some of her own. “I noticed in my class over the past two years that students struggled to write critically and analyze texts,” she explains. “I want to help them write better about what the writer says, what the reader thinks, and what other people say.”
“I teach at my old high school, so I’ve come full circle,” she continues. “My colleagues are my former teachers. We all insist that our students will read and write every day of their lives.
From text messages and emails, to wedding vows and job applications, writing is essential for many daily tasks. “It’s not a Pythagorean theorem,” Amara joked.
About twenty teachers from the region have already registered for the September 10 workshop and the list continues to grow. There is no registration fee and lunch will be provided. A book exchange is another feature, along with networking opportunities with other MSU teachers and professors.
A Facebook link provides registration information, and questions can be directed to Dr. Cyzewski at [email protected]
NOTE: I posted the questions below on a site in my hometown of Metuchen, NJ, and received a deluge of responses.
Do you have any memories of what you learned – or didn’t learn – in your high school English lessons? Which teacher was the most memorable? Why? What did you read?
If you have memories of high school English lessons to share, email [email protected] Future columns will be based on reader responses.