Why is this blog called Gatsby in L.A.?

I have terrible trouble keeping a discussion to one single topic because I’m curious about many things (a quality that caused significant problems for me as a teacher). If this blog is not going to become a Unabomber-like manifesto, I need to narrow my topic.  I’ve decided to focus on teachers in L.A. because I live here and to focus on a single subject: 11th grade English, which is almost always American Literature.

Why American Lit?

A) because American Lit is my favorite, so much of it written by outsiders, immigrants, wanderers and dreamers all in search of their place in America.

B) because a lot of American Lit is incredibly tough sledding and therefore a huge challenge for English teachers.  Relaxed in a bubble bath with the Declaration of Independence lately?  I didn’t think so.

Why 11th grade? Because 11th grade English classes are going to be the first to be tested in California under the new Common Core standards next year.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry–I’ll cover it in later posts.  Basically, I mean that teachers across California are about to get their heads ripped off by Common Core tests, but 11th grade English teachers will get their heads ripped off first.

Why Gatsby?  My initial plan was to cover only the teaching of this book because Gatsby is the quintessential tragic believer in the American Dream, and education is the engine of the meritocracy we call the American Dream.  Beautiful, right?

But reality happened as I started meeting teachers and found that there are many terrific 11th grade English teachers who are not teaching Gatsby at all.  I also, full disclosure, will be following one teacher who is teaching 12th grade but is so great I wanted to observe his class.  I know that’s inconsistent.  But you know what American Lit all-star Ralph Waldo Emerson said about foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds.  In fact, to be even more honest, I’ve already interviewed at least six amazing people who are not English teachers at all.  Two are math teachers, one is a professor, two are PhD candidates and one is a principal.  But they are really, really interesting.

For the literal-minded, remember that Gatsby didn’t go to his own parties.  Why should he go to mine?

So Gatsby is more a central metaphor than a literal focus.  Who is more mythic, more emblematic of the American Dream gone wrong than this farm-boy-turned-mobster-turned-socialite trying to shimmy his way up the social totem pole?   What could be a better example of the kind of “dead white guy” literature that many people believe is no longer relevant and others will fight for until they’re purple in the face?

Also, I taught Gatsby, and it did not go very well for reasons I’ll explain in a later post.

Anyway, my hope is to ask questions and listen to answers, to hear stories and understand people in 11th grade classrooms across L.A.  I don’t want to rant here.  I want to learn.

I hope that either clarifies things or is so confusing that you’ve given up hope of understanding what I’m doing but want to come along for the ride anyway because life is a journey, not a destination, to quote Emerson, who may have said that, or Aerosmith, who definitely sang that.

Ready?  Let’s go!

5 thoughts on “Gatsby?”

  1. This is very cool. I used to teach and now sell novels to schools. My kids have gone to both public and private schools. I believe my kids went to school with yours in elementary school. My youngest is now in an 11th grade AP Lit. Class and after back to school night I think I’m going to like his style of teaching. She seems to like it. I feel like I’ve seen it from many different sides and I still am not sure what the answer is. The only thing I am sure of is that it is not one size fits all. I am very interested to see what you learn. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Although to give the Unabomber his props, his manifesto was lucid and used down to earth language. That made it extra creepy. Is it ridiculous to be commenting about the Unabomber in this blog? Yes, it is. Never again, I promise!

  3. Ellie, you need more exposure to dynamic National Board Certified (NBC) teachers in your subject discipline. The most “effective” teachers in the classroom today usually follow the NBC approach. The force is with you during your journey so remain focused on one subject domain at a time. In short, master your content area and learn what motivates your students in popular culture so that you can better relate. Encourage and enlist students to achieve their own goals in learning while implementing cutting-edge technology for their own posterity. Lastly, seriously consider National University’s online Masters of Science in Educational and Instructional Technology and align your thesis website with Common Core Standards which integrate Web 3.0 technologies out of the classroom. Make a commitment to collecting the best lesson plans which are aligned with the most current California Standards-based curriculum in English for your classroom. Be prepared to share most of your content material online for your colleagues and administrators to view and share constructive commentary with you. Oh, and remember “Flipping” your classroom can help you and your students a great deal so research this approach. Most importantly, seriously consider working in a unionized public high school for your next attempt at teaching the four major types of learners who need you. Good luck grasshopper!

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