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Posts tagged ‘Bob Zakrzewski’

Books on the Blog: Ready, Player One, and Buck

By Bob Zakrzewski

readyplayeroneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

I became aware of Cline’s first novel a few years ago when a close friend and fellow English teacher raved about it.  His rare enthusiasm made Ready Player One a title I kept stashed away in my memory, but also contributed to my falling into the dangerous trap of judging a book by its fanbase.

When this particular friend went on and on about this bildungsroman, dystopian, virtual-reality video-gamer adventure tale, I dismissed it.  He is a gamer, and I am not.  He loves Star Wars, obscure comics, and prog rock.  I can appreciate these, but nowhere near the extent he or many of their avid enthusiasts do.  This book sounded like something right up his alley, and something several blocks away from mine.

Last year, my curriculum supervisor sent out a message that she read the book and loved it, asking if any teacher would want to use it in class.  Always open to trying new books with my students, I reconsidered the text. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Word Up!

By Bob Zakrzewski

Quick quiz: What unites and excludes, is personal and public, judges and is judged, and constantly changes into something new despite relentless efforts to keep it the same?

Answer: Language.

A love of literature led me into the high school English classroom, but, as is usually true with any long-term relationship, I’ve uncovered many layers to my feelings for my profession since walking into my first class, frightened but optimistic, in August 1999.

My teaching career had a bumpy start. I quickly found the writers I loved would not be embraced by my students simply because I loved them. Among everything those early years taught me, the biggest lesson may have been that I wasn’t teaching younger versions of myself.

As I honed my craft under the gaze of No Child Left Behind, incorporating adaptations and accommodations and catering to Individualized Educational Plans, I couldn’t ignore how most of my lessons left more than a few students on the outside looking in, wondering what the big deal was. My classes’ mixed enthusiasm and varied engagement kept me unsure of my ability and unable to feel satisfied with my work. To many of my students, Holden Caulfield was a whiny and entitled rich kid, Jay Gatsby a gullible and obsessive fool, and Romeo and Juliet naïve and impulsive children. Dismissal of characters nurtured disinterested reading, leading to disinterested writing (creating a stack of disinterested grading). Even when things went pretty well, something always wasn’t quite right. Read more

Serve Your Enthusiasm

By Bob Zakrzewski

            Often this time of year when winter overstays its welcome, I find solace in the sun stretching each day longer, melting January and February’s icy blues and chapped pinks into March greens.  And as a high school English teacher on a block schedule, facing mid-winter accompanies meeting new students, reminding me of James Baldwin’s apt observation: “Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men.”

            Enthusiasm fuels my teaching.  Years spent honing the art of organizing lessons and developing an understanding of writing, although well-spent, could not sustain me.  Walking into class with a well-prepared plan and confident knowledge of the day’s literature felt great, yet, lacking enthusiasm, the lessons fell flat. Read more