Last year, I taught 10th grade English at a boarding school in New York, and it presented a series of learning curves that I struggled with each day to overcome. I had heard whispers about how your first year teaching will be incredibly difficult, but I didn’t know the extent of that difficulty until I was standing in a room with twenty sets of blinking eyes impatiently waiting for an attention-grabbing lecture. However, I quickly realized that in many cases the lectures are not attention-grabbing, and the assignments you create may be followed with a slew of complaints. Phones are always laying on the laps of teens trying to answer their latest snapchat, as you attempt in vain to convince them that the novel in front of them is much more interesting. It’s incredibly energy-consuming, and the days where you spend hours creating a lesson just for it to fail miserably leave you feeling as though you don’t deserve to be standing at the front of your classroom. Then, however, there are those special moments when you notice your students are fully engaged in the lesson you arranged for that day. They express the enjoyment they felt after reading the poem you assigned to them, and how they found the latest writing prompt to be fun. These moments left me feeling as though I was capable of doing the very thing that left me doubting myself for weeks on end.
Along with these moments of self-doubt, I struggled at various points throughout the year to teach myself the material that I would then have to teach my students. The school I worked at had very loose curriculum outlines. This gives you quite a bit of freedom to introduce your favorite novelists and poets to students. But, on the other hand, as someone with fairly little experience and knowledge of what students will be receptive to and what they won’t be receptive to, it can be quite daunting. I was given a certain time period to focus on, and all of the texts that I brought into the classroom had to either fall within that period, or they had to be strongly connected to the themes or major events that occurred during the given time frame. The 10th grade curriculum centered around the years 1688 to 1851, so we primarily focused on Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Voltaire’s Candide, and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. We also spent about two months on Romanticism. I was given a rough outline about which poets and writers had been used in the past, and the list primarily included Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Blake, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley was the only female author we looked at over the course of that entire year, and I am a bit disappointed with myself that I didn’t incorporate more female authors into the curriculum. Truthfully, I didn’t know many female Romantics outside of Shelley, and so I clung to the poetry of Keats, Blake, and Coleridge.
I was pleasantly surprised when during the Romanticism and Gender module here at UCC I found out we’d be looking at Charlotte Smith, Anna Barbauld, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Mary Robinson—all women who were well-known published authors during both the 18th and 19th centuries. I was even more surprised when I read up on Charlotte Smith and found out that she greatly inspired William Wordsworth, the man who is typically credited with spearheading the Romantic movement. I was quite shocked that as someone who inspired Wordsworth, Smith was not as widely read or recognized. As a woman, I think it’s incredibly important that we create spaces for each other to share our voices and creativity. As an educator, I had the chance—but missed the opportunity—to do just that—to bring the voices, ideas, and creativity of women into the classroom. By doing so, it could have broken down the harmful assumption that only very specific men possess these spaces. I think that if I move forward as an educator, and as I move forward with my master’s thesis, it’s incredibly important—and equally as necessary—to include a diverse range of writers, scholars, and creators into both my thesis and any future curriculum I may create.