When I was young and easy as the grass was green, I was much affected by the poetry of Dylan Thomas (alluded to above) and e.e. cummings. One of the latter’s poems, “When God lets my body be,” struck me at the time as a most apt figure of speech. Yes, I had a life to live, and much of it lay ahead of me then. But even then I could foresee a day when I would be glad to quit of all the responsibilities that life and God lay upon me. I knew even then, that given my drive to do and see all that there was to know, that I would never be free until God was willing to let my body be; that I would always be a work in progress; that I would always be on the way to being something that I was not, in order to be all that I could potentially be.

Over the last two years I have been becoming an IB Diploma English teacher. It is one of the most challenging things I have undertaken in my life, and it is only now that I can say with some assurance that I have become what I set out to be some two and a half years ago. It was in February 2015 that I accepted this position at Cayman International School in the Cayman Island. I knew that I would have up my game considerably to meet the professional standards for this move. Taking a Masters was part of that thinking. So was immersing myself in Google Sites, Classroom, and Drive protocols, and refreshing my SmartBoard knowledge. I studied the materials for this position and wore my colleagues out with demands for information. I met or Skyped with everyone I knew to find out all that I could. I started lesson planning and choosing novels, plays, and poetry about four months before I even got here. Over the course of the last two years I have built three websites to house all the curriculum materials I have developed. I update the articles and novel study guides weekly.

English is a difficult subject at the best of times. There are so many things you have to access to do well. You have be a good reader; that goes without saying. But you also need to be a good writer, a good speaker, a good presenter, a good debater, and above all a good thinker. You have to be familiar with literature from several countries, regions and traditions. You have to have a good grasp of historical and social movements, and a least a familiarity with the development of intellectual ideas. You have to not only know literary terms and conventions, but know their use and purposes and be able to use them yourself. For IB English you have to know not only know how to write critical analysis – not imposing interpretations on text but drawing meaning from it – but that analysis must be written in a concise and fluid prose that does not become biased or dogmatic.

To bring all this about as a teacher you must assiduously read and correct virtually everything your students write. Assessment in IB is most tightly proscribed. There is absolutely no room at all for subjective assessment to any degree. On a typical weekend I will mark student work for 10 to 14 hours. Nor does the teaching day afford much preparation time for lessons, which must also be prepared over the weekends. Last year I taught three different grades of English. This year and next I will teach two grades, two sections each, plus an elective each day. In Malaysia I taught one grade three periods out of the six in a day, so this was a twofold increase in my workload.

The workload may be daunting, but the real challenge was getting up to speed on the demands of knowledge for each novel, play, and poet that I taught. That has taken hundreds of hours, and I am nowhere near finished. I still need to know everything I possible can about Wislawa Szymborska, Chinua Achebe, Jean Anouilh, Bernhard Schlink, Cormac McCarthy, Pablo Neruda, and Zora Neale Hurston, and I need to constantly push what I already know about Sophocles, Aristotle, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Yann Martel, William Shakespeare and Robert Frost. I need to find relevant articles about the works we are studying and reduce these articles to what is useful and applicable for an upper high school study. I have to constantly adjust my lesson plans to meet the exigencies of IB and CIS report card deadlines, school trips, assemblies, school-wide events, and parent teacher meetings.

I confess that I am tired. Exhausted would be closer to the truth. But I am not yet done. In fact, last weekend I took a round of training to become an IB Examiner so I can mark student work from other countries as well as my own. I am doing this so I can have a greater understanding of what constitutes a good grade by IB criterial so I can better instruct the students I teach. This too is part of becoming an IB teacher, so I am not there yet, wherever there may be.

However that said – and I recognize that it is a lot to digest – let me come to the heart of the matter. Yesterday I finished the end of the two year cycle that is the IB Diploma program in English Literature. The students that I started with two years ago are now finished their lessons. They are not finished their year, let me hasten to add. In front of them is a three week cycle of exams in every subject. There will be two exams in English, for example, three in Biology, three in Chemistry, three in Math and so on. All of these exams are externally marked by IB Examiners in some other country. We cannot mark our own, and indeed I will not even see the English exam until after the students have written it. I will not know how they did until sometime in August.

But my part is done. I have planned and executed a two year course of study starting virtually from scratch and it is done. May I say – with some degree of justification – that it was done well. Yesterday I told the students that I would let them assess me. I opened a folder in Google drive for this purpose and let them say whatever they wanted. I will not post here the comments they made. That is private between them and me, and I would not violate our confidential relationship by citing their reflections. I will say that I am humbled by their kindness and their courtesy, and rejoice that my efforts to bring about their greater good have not gone unnoticed.

So where am I now? Well, I have become an IB English teacher. That is what I set out to do, and that is what I now am. In time I will become a better one, I am sure. I am also now an IB Examiner, so for now, and for this brief window, I am not becoming, I am. When God lets my body be, I will finally be who I am forever. I am not in a hurry to get there, but gosh I must say that I am looking forward to the rest.

Advertisements