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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Palisoul takes on new role teaching English 11 Honors

Ruiyan Zhu
Bookshelf used for the library system in Mary Palisoul’s classroom

As the bell rang at the beginning of the period, students in Room 006 began to discuss the themes and implications behind “On being a refugee, an American — and a human being,” an essay by Viet Thanh Nguyen. They ask questions about fundamental American values inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and explore the idea of American identity, crucial topics that the English 11 Honors curriculum is built around. At the front of the room, English teacher Mary Palisoul guided the discussion. 

In  recent years, English 11 Honors has been taught by Amy Keys, who was granted leave for the ‘23-‘24 school year to spend time with her husband during his sabbatical as a college professor, and Natasha Ritchie, who still teaches English 11 Honors as well as the Media Art Program English classes at the junior level. 

Following Keys’ departure, Palisoul agreed to take over Keys’ teaching duties for the course and is teaching three periods of the class this year. Palisoul first began teaching in Boston in 2007 after getting her master’s degree in teaching. She later moved to the Bay Area and taught at several schools, including Harker and Redwood High School in Larkspur. The ‘23-‘24 school marks the beginning of her 13th year of teaching.

Despite the change in instructor, the curriculum for the course remains largely the same, Palisoul said. It still includes works like “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

“The idea of the honors class is it’s an American literature class,” Palisoul said. “We are really trying to open up our understanding of various American stories, and we’re hearing from a variety of authors and perspectives.”

Despite the uptick in the curriculum’s rigor, Palisoul noted she’s seeing similarities between teaching English 10 to English 11 Honors.

“I have some familiar faces and some new faces,” Palisoul said. “What I’m noticing in terms of parallels [between English 10 and English 11 Honors] is great intellectual engagement, lively energy and a willingness to discuss the literature together.”

Last year, Palisoul worked with other English 9 and 10 teachers in the English department. Since Ritchie is the only other English 11 Honors teacher, Palisoul has been working closely with her on the structure of each lesson.

“We hope that students in both classes are having a consistent experience in terms of what work they are expected to do and the deadlines they are expected to meet,” she said.

Senior Emily Hung, the teacher’s assistant for Palisoul’s third-period class, also noted few differences in teaching styles between Palisoul and her former teacher Keys but also sees important similarities.

“Palisoul and Keys are both caring and compassionate teachers — teachers that any student would be lucky to have,” she said.

In one change from Palisoul’s previous English 9 and 10 courses, English 11 Honors classroom offers a book checkout system that Keys created. The library system allows students to borrow books complementary to the course and further explore the ideas covered by the curriculum. 

Since Palisoul was unfamiliar with the library system, she has relied on Hung to introduce the system to students. 

English 11 Honors student Aneri Shah said she has improved her performance in class after checking out and reading “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba from the class library.

“[After reading the book,] I had a more versatile knowledge of the world, and I could write more complex and more diverse narratives,” she said. 

As she steps into the world of teaching a new class, Palisoul hopes to push students in new directions and make discoveries alongside them.

“My hope is always to help some students who might be a little bit more reluctant to speak in class and to help them feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas,” Palisoul said. “We benefit from hearing the ideas of all students.”

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