Herzman teaches AP Lit while Head pilots Balance English 9

September 11, 2017 — by Sanjana Melkote

“Freshmen. Five classes of freshmen. This is either going to be really fun, because freshmen are a kick, or I’ll go crazy,” said English teacher Catherine Head.

Head, who has taught seniors in AP Literature for 28 years, has passed the baton to her fellow English teacher Suzanne Herzman and taken on a full load of freshman English classes.

Head is now teaching two versions of English 9: MAP and a pilot course called Balance, which stands for “Balancing Academics, Life And Navigating Choices in English/Earth Science.” The class is focused on balancing and tackling the myriad of demands students face in high school, according to Head.

For her part, Herzman is teaching AP Literature for the first time, and she said she is excited for the challenge. In particular, she likes teaching seniors because they’re experienced at critical reading and analytical thinking.

In the past, Herzman has taught English to all four high school grade levels, in courses ranging from college prep, honors, MAP, and AP, which has helped her learn how to best prepare students for their next year in a high school English class.

“Teaching AP Lit is a lovely continuation of English 11 Honors, and since I know that curriculum really well, I get to build off what I know my students have just done the year before,” she said.

While Herzman is continuing to teach English 10 MAP, and be the Media Arts Program coordinator, she is also teaching the one section of AP Literature the school offers.

Herzman expects to feel the struggle of unfamiliarity as she works through teaching complicated texts for the first time.

“This will be certainly more work, but I think it’s going to be good; I think it’s going to be worth it,” she said.

Herzman isn’t making any major changes in the curriculum this year in terms of core literature, but she plans on “auditioning” texts in smaller literature circles within the class, with the purpose of possibly adopting them in the future.

“Not surprisingly for a MAP teacher, I see a lot of value in project-based learning. I'd like to work in some performance projects and maybe even bring back the ‘Motif Fair’ I did when I first starting teaching English 11 Honors,” said Herzman.  “These assignments force students to read closely, and can appeal to the wide variety of learners we have in the classroom.”

According to Herzman, her class will mainly strive for balance in order to effect insights that both the teacher and student are proud of and create an environment where they feel productive, and “maybe even happy in.”

Head, who has been helping Herzman through the transition phase, has every faith that Herzman will do a “fine job” with the AP students.

“I want her to be free to make the course her own. I don’t want her to try to be me because she’s not,” Head said. “Her strengths lie in a totally different area, and they’re truly great. So I think probably more than anything, my guidance to her has been to help her make the course her own.”

Head and Herzman have previously worked together when piloting the English 9 Media Arts Program, and this year, Head is piloting the BALANCE program in her English 9 class.

Head is reducing the homework load for her Balance class to virtually nothing as part of the class. By reducing the workload, her students will ideally have the time to explore and experiment with their interests.

“I believe, and the research shows, that you can get the same amount of learning, sometimes even more, if you don’t have a heavy homework load,” she said.

She has her hands full with freshmen, but she will miss the literature, insightful discussions and adult thinkers that came with teaching AP Literature.

Herzman and Head alike find the best part about teaching the course to be the students who walk into their classrooms.

“They see the power and importance of stories in our world, and they’re up for reading difficult literature — for having an environment where we can help each other out and be OK with the struggle of working through hard texts,” Herzman said. “I think for me, teaching has always been super rewarding because I learn a ton, and I’m going to learn a ton this year.”

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