I’m wondering about the use of Huck Finn as a novel for tenth grade students. Our English teacher is committed to the use of the novel, spends approximately ten weeks teaching it, and has limited success. Approximately 32% of the students fail the class during this marking period, many refusing to participate for the duration of the unit. They HATE it. Honestly, he works hard and tries multiple methods to reach all students, feels it’s absolutely a necessary classic for this class. As the principal, I struggle with supporting the teacher’s right to make decisions about content and novels and rigor and the failure rate.
Is this an appropriate novel? Are there other classics that are better suited to our more reluctant learners? Are the difficulties with literacy in our student population compounded on a novel such as Huck Finn? How do I respond to my teacher’s total commitment to this novel if it’s not the best choice? Do I just support him and continue to force the novel for all students? This tenth grade course literally becomes a stumbling block to graduation for a number of students. I clearly support the high expectations for our students, but am not sure Huck Finn is worth the fight.
Thinking about the students in our schools, their MP3 players, cell phones, and PSP’s that teachers are forever confiscating and turning into my office for “discipline”, I’m imagining there must be a better solution. Couple this question with the idea that my personal opinion on the subject is that students will always use the gadgets that they love and what’s wrong with that anyway? How do we reconcile the students’ desire to text and connect to friends 24/7 with the teachers’ need to engage the student? Maybe that’s the answer. If the students are engaged and interested in the learning, they won’t be more interested in the next text message. Is good teaching alone the answer? I think it certainly helps but why can’t we figure out a way to engage students using the technology that they are so comfortable with in a meaningful way that furthers our educational goals?
How do we embrace that which we cannot nor should not eliminate? How do we use it to our educational advantage in engaging students with our content?
I am the proud superintendent of schools for the Randolph Central School District, with about 1000 of the greatest students on the planet. We are improving every year, with a supportive and caring climate, wonderful teachers, and a strong administrative team and Board of Education. Randolph is in rural Western New York and includes my favorite place in the world, the Allegany Reservoir, aka Kinzua.
I am also the happily married mother of two, Bryna who is our beautiful daughter and Tallon who is our wonderful son. Bryna is studying education at SUNY Fredonia and Tallon is a junior in high school. My husband of many years, Derek, is a major motor head and enjoys fast boats, fast cars, and fast snowmobiles. Me? I like our big old houseboat better, where I can sit quietly with a book and watch the fast boat go by.