In an attempt to reach her students on a more personal level, Anne English, single mom and high school English teacher, begins writing them letters and asking for honest responses. Taking place over one full school year, Class Letters reveals how letter-writing can lead to deep, and unlikely, connections.
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Claire Chilton Lopez is writer, blogger, and former high school English teacher. She has written two novels, several spiritual fables, and a number of poems. The inspiration for her novel, Class Letters , originated during her years of teaching and her desire to encourage other teachers to connect with their students through the power of letters. Claire enjoys travel, reading, and riding motorcycles. She lives with her husband and two dogs.
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By Claire Lopez
She Writes PressCopyright © 2013 Claire Lopez
All rights reserved.
With the preliminary class information out of the way—the rules and procedures, the dos and don'ts—Anne outlined the curriculum for the year. "As you may or may not know," she smiled, "English IV is British lit. We'll go through the literature book chronologically, beginning with Beowulf and ending with Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw. And, like every year in English, we'll do a research paper along the way."
A hand in the back.
"Chronologically means we'll read it in sequence according to the time period in which it happened. Chronos is Greek for time. Does anyone know what etymology means?"
Blank stares everywhere.
"The etymology of a word refers to its root, prefix, and suffix. It helps you understand where a word comes from and its original meaning. Knowing the etymology of a word could help you dissect a word enough to understand the denotation, or dictionary definition, even if you've never seen or heard the word before."
Anne wrote the following words on the board: chronometer, chronic, synchronicity.
"Can anyone guess what these words mean?"
"Is a chronometer a time meter?"
"Very good—it measures time. What about chronic?"
"It's some badass weed, Miss," joked Ray, a Hispanic boy in the back row.
"I've heard that," Anne smiled. "What happens when you have a chronic disease or condition?"
"Isn't it when you have something that lasts for a long time?" asked Tiffany, a perky blonde in the front row.
"Yes, that's right. Good. Now, if I told you that the prefix syn- means with or together, what do you think synchronicity might mean?"
Tiffany raised her hand, "Something that happens at the same time as something else?"
"Right! We'll learn more about etymology as we go through the year. Like I said, it's a very handy thing to know. There are even times when I come across a word that I don't know, but if I know a piece of it, like the prefix or root, I can at least get an idea of the meaning. Then I usually get the rest from context clues. Now I want to explain your novel project. Each semester, I want you to read a novel outside of class that you choose on your own."
"What? I hate to read! I don't like reading nothing I have to read, so I know I don't wanna read extra stuff," said Ray.
"The good thing about this assignment is that you get to choose. You can read something from the Twilight series or a Harry Potter book. It can be one hundred pages or one thousand, and can be by any author you choose."
"It don't matter, Miss. I still hate to read. Do we have to?"
"Well, it's a test grade, and if you don't do it, you'll have a zero. A zero for a test grade almost guarantees you'll fail the six weeks. But it's ultimately up to you. Now, does anyone want to share what they did over the summer?"
"But, Miss, about the book thing," began Ray, "I don't know what to get or anything. And I was banned from the library last year 'cause that library lady hates me."
"I can help you choose something, and I can also talk to Mrs. Boyle to see about letting you check out a book for my class. Besides, you might actually like it."
As she turned her back to grab a stack of papers, she heard, "Pssst. You don't have to really read it, fool. Just look it up on the Internet. She'll never know."
Two of Anne's pet peeves were cheating and apathy, and this suggestion of using the Internet covered both. She would rather get one hundred mediocre honest projects than one stupendous dishonest one. She knew that reading was beneficial, fun, and a good escape. And, sadly, she was sure at least a few of her students could use a wholesome escape from their home life. Unfortunately, trying to convince a room full of teenagers was a difficult proposition. Rather than address the covert op during class, she wanted to sit on it for a while and determine a different tack. Besides, she was angry and needed time to think of an appropriate course of action.
Anne holed up in the teacher workroom during her conference period, sipping a diet cola and getting off her feet for the first time that day. The first day of school—the first week or two, really—was exhausting, especially after summer break. Her vacation days were generally unstructured. She might work in the yard, swim, go out to the nature center, or ride her motorcycle, and her summer attire was always comfortable: shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops. Some days she was up at 7:00 a.m. to pull weeds before the heat of the day descended; some days she'd sleep until ten. Getting back into a regular schedule and school-appropriate attire was always a shock to her system.
"How are your classes?" asked Debra Carson, an algebra teacher.
"So far, so good. Just grabbing a little caffeine boost to get through the rest of the day," said Anne, raising the can. "Yours?"
"Pretty good, but it's just the first day. They're always good on the first day. Making it through next week will be more of a challenge."
"True. Just out of curiosity, do you think many kids around here cheat?"
"Cheat? Do I think many kids cheat? I think all kids cheat. Are you kidding? None of these kids is willing to work on their own."
"None? Really? I think there are plenty of kids who want to do their own work," said Anne.
"Maybe that's the case in English classes, but not in math. It's all just a cat-and-mouse game to see how many different ways they can find to cheat and how many we can actually catch 'em at."
"Isn't that just a little bit cynical?" teased Anne.
"Cynical? Nope, it's reality. I've been here thirty-five years, and trust me, they all cheat, the little shits. Well, have a great day!"
"Uh, yeah. See ya," said Anne. She knew Debra's reputation as a malcontent, but still hoped that Debra's attitude wasn't the pervasive one among the faculty.
Anne pondered her options about the potential cheating issue while stirring spaghetti sauce that night before dinner. Was there a game they could play or maybe a children's book that would get the message across? She didn't want to simply lecture the kids on the virtue of honesty. She wanted to do something that would bring the lesson home and make them think. She thought of her own children—her seventeen-year-old daughter, Maggie, and Richard, who was fourteen. She knew that she talked to her own children about such things, but how many of her students' parents did likewise? As a parent, what would she want a teacher to say to them? She knew she walked a fine line between being an instructor and taking on a more parental role—something that occasionally caused resentment with parents. Nevertheless, she felt a sense of urgency—most of these kids would be completely on their own in less than a year.
"What helps you internalize something you need to know?" she asked her children at dinner.
"Money," answered Richard quickly.
"How does that help?"
"I'll do just about anything for cold, hard cash, Mom," grinned Richard.
"Okay, but what about with my students? I can't pay all of them to learn something!"
"I like it when you write me letters, Mom. It's something I can read over again if I need to, and something I can look at and think about," Maggie said.
"Great idea, Maggie. I like writing you letters; it gives me a chance to say what I really want to say, because I can think about it and revise it. I'll consider that. Thanks."
"You're welcome, Mom. What are you trying to teach your students?"
"About the problems associated with cheating."
"Good luck," said Richard. "Everyone cheats and no one wants to learn on their own."
"Does everyone include you?"
"Okay, Mom. Promise you won't get mad?" "Here we go ... okay, I promise."
"All right, every now and then I'll get answers for homework in alge- bra. But never on a test—homework only. You know I have a hard time with it, and Mr. Stemmons always grades the homework. I'd be failing right now if I didn't get some help with homework."
"How about getting some help from Mr. Stemmons? Or your sister? She's great at math."
"Ugh. I knew I shouldn't have told you."
"Just try it. You may actually get something out of it. Like knowledge." "Yes, ma'am."
"A letter. Hmm ... I like that. Who wants ice cream?"
After dinner, Anne sat in bed with a legal pad and a pen. She rarely typed things out on the computer. It seemed more personal to her to write things out longhand and transcribe into the laptop. And her bed was the most comfortable place in her home.
Once she began looking at cheating in general, she thought of all the different tangents she could travel along to make her point. By the end of her two-page letter, she felt like she had covered the subject in a way that would make sense to teenagers. She would soon find out.
Excerpted from Class Letters by Claire Lopez. Copyright © 2013 Claire Lopez. Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
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