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Michelle Koza

Oh, the Humanities!

I am an English teacher who is passionate about literature. Catch me in my AP class and you’ll see that I’m a superb lecturer (though I do stray from literature every so often; see my blog on why I teach Aristotle’s Ethics). In my standard English classes, however, as I have gathered experience over the last 10 years, I have moved away more and more from pure literature, and exposed my students to magazine articles (old and new), op-eds, and other types of non-fiction, like primary source documents such as historical memos, convention resolutions, and legal opinions.

Ethical Thinking

I have always wanted to teach ethics and philosophy in a high school English class, and this year I started my AP Literature class with Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. I like to call this an “anchor-text,” as it provides a framework for understanding the literature we will be investigating throughout the course. But it is really much more powerful than this. We can use ethics to see the choices of literary characters in a more objective way, and not in a morass of relativism and emotional confusion.

Notable Student Success Stories: Michelle Koza

Andrew* was a demanding student. He was a challenge to have in class, since he appeared to have no filter when he was sharing his thoughts during discussion. He would interrupt me and his peers frequently, and he was notorious for not listening to others’ perspectives. He had many challenges in reading and writing, but he was extremely hard working. In the end, this made all the difference. As teachers we have to engage even our most difficult students, and I came to admire Andrew and his work ethic.

Calm in the Digital Storm

Popular wisdom says this generation of students is digitally native, and that they have facility with digital technology that people even of my generation (I’m just on the upper edge of millenial) don’t have. Indeed, in my household we had a family computer all through my years in high school. Cell phones were still relatively novel, and the iPhone was not even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. This difference in perspective led to my over-enthusiasm for introducing digital technology in the classroom.

Performing Empathy: Shakespeare in the Classroom

I did not understand the power of kinesthetic learning until I taught Shakespeare through performance. Last year I participated in a Folger Shakespeare Library professional development at BAM, in Brooklyn, and it transformed my experience of Shakespeare and deepened my understanding of why the study of literature is so important. The program convinced me that the best place to experience Shakespeare is from the inside.

Students: Giving Yourself the Gift of a Broad Education

As an educator with several years of experience working with a wide array of students in various educational contexts, I am concerned about the specialization trend that is taking place in schools at increasingly lower grade levels. While it is important that students identify their intellectual interests, they may miss opportunities to discover unexpected interests and to develop fully as a thinker. As a greater percentage of high school graduates begin to pursue college education, competition for professional employment increases.

Dystopias for our Times

Every so often, I find myself teaching novels that are incredibly timely. In a time when the basic humanity of various groups is being questioned or even outright ignored, we may turn to literature to discover the consequences of such ideologies. The following novels share a sense that a social plan that ignores the fundamental truth about human dignity is doomed. But which doom we end up with is up to us: will these dystopian societies fail against the glow of the human spirit, or will we bargain away our shot at fulfillment for mere contentment, or even base survival?

In Search of the Digital Red Pen

Paper is great, and it gives a flexibility that typing doesn’t. I can leaf through a book faster than I can scan a PDF; word processing software isn’t as dynamic as the scrawls of a red pen. And I require students to mark their texts when they read to create “working texts.” Call me old-fashioned, but I have always been skeptical of jumping into the tech revolution with two feet. How was an app supposed to transform my teaching?

The Beekman Blue Jay Sings!

Last week we had our second ever Chirp Café, sponsored by our literary magazine, The Beekman Chirp. This event was even more successful than the last, with a bigger turnout of spectators and participants. Folks were sitting high up in the stairwell and packed into the study hall on the second floor. Students shared poems about friendship, heartbreak, joy, and even eating. Here are some reasons why these events are great for students and the school:

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