When Context is a Novelty

Senioritis is real, people–I think I have it.  Teacheritis?  I don’t know.  Either way, the type of this condition my students have seems to be an airborne contagion, because I’ve caught it.

However, along with the feeling of I-just-want-to-sit-on-a-beach-and-read-Matthew-Quick-novels, I’m having all the other feelings, too.

We are nearing the end of the school year, which will bring to close my SECOND–count ’em, one, two–year of teacher the lovely half-child, half-almost-adults, half confused and terrified individuals we call seniors.

The other feelings I’m beginning to feel are difficult to wrestle.

I’m excited for a clean slate.

I’m lamenting over all the Should Have Done’s and Wish I Did’s.

I’m paralyzed with fear that someone will steal books from my classroom over the summer, jeopardizing the integrity of the inventory I have yet to take.

I’m overwhelmed at coming up with a better system of organization than my piles of sticky notes.

I’m also mourning the fact that these amazing human beings whose lives I’ve been a part of for 180 days will now go off into the world and I may never see them or hear from them again.

One of these incredible humans is Zoe.


Aside from the fact that we look like sisters, Zoe has been a student who’s been on my mind a lot this year.  The first day when we set reading goals, I was taken aback that her goal was heftier than mine.  She wanted to read 50 books this school year.  Even more, she labored over a plan to actual complete that goal, as she wanted it to be realistic!

At the Principal’s Breakfast, I described Zoe as having her head in the clouds with one foot on the ground.  She has this uncanny ability to dream big, but to make sure she understands the logistics of everything.

Zoe is a student who always asks why.  She doesn’t ask it in a way to throw off the teacher, she just truly wants to know how everything connects and why it matters.  This has made me better.

When we had our class discussion on engagement, Zoe explained that this was the first English class in which she felt everything had context.  Surprised at her remark, I asked her to explain further.

She said, “We don’t do random worksheets for grammar or learn random words that don’t have any sort of genesis or connection with what we are actually reading or talking about.”

She tweeted a few things that made my heart sing:


Aside from the fact that I’m glad this connection is happening in my classroom, I’m confused as to why context in the classroom is such a novelty.

I’ve been seeing many Twitter friends commenting on the new book from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, Disrupting Thinking.


Excerpt from Disrupting Thinking via @msethna23 on Twitter


Like it says, we know the research.  We know things should not be taught in isolation.  We know kids need hooks and pegs on which to hang their knowledge.  So why are our classrooms still reflecting a plot-and-prescribed-theme teaching, vocabulary word memorizing, grammar terms on Fridays environment rather than an environment of connected and contextual literacy?

With a couple of sentences in a classroom discussion, Zoe sparked my mind to not only consider my own teaching practice, but to artfully consider why things are the way they are in education in general.

My new research question: If one knows something, how do they benefit from feigning ignorance?  What would it take to change a whole system in which so many are comfortable with comfort?

As for those that are reading this post, I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir.  Even still, how can we band together to show how much better it is this way?

Zoe is the type of student who sticks with you, but I’m running into increasingly more of those these days.  I’ve attempted this year to change my teaching from This is What You Need to Know to What is your story and how can I help it along, make it wider and deeper, and revel in the light of a lifelong learner taking a step into the real world. 

How do you create context and connectivity in your classroom?

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She usually takes on major life events all at once rather than bit by bit, such as starting graduate school, buying a house, going to Europe, and preparing for two new classes next year.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.


2 thoughts on “When Context is a Novelty

  1. Jessica Paxson May 4, 2017 at 1:56 pm Reply

    I love that, Amy! I didn’t think of it that way, but maybe I should frame that so I remember.


  2. Amy Estersohn May 4, 2017 at 7:46 am Reply

    I’ve been thinking a little bit about my version of a teaching mantra, which is what I take to be your focus on the words “context and connectivity.”

    I’d just add that acquiring and building knowledge is a joyful process.


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