Favorite Classes

June 15, 2008

I am now officially done with high school. I have taken a grand total of 32 classes plus a couple doubles through the years (gym and orchestra). Some of these classes have been very good, and some of them have been very bad. I want to take some time to talk about my favorite classes from high school. I could never have the time or will to talk about all the good ones. Every year I had at least one or two classes that I liked, but classes that I loved were rare treasures. I could also talk about classes I hated, but I’m not here to do any bashing. That isn’t right. I won’t remember the classes I hated. I will remember the classes I loved. All of these classes seem to be in the area of English and Social Studies. Science has never been my forte, although I have had some decent teachers, and Math is something I am marginally good at but can never really get myself to be inspired by. Hopefully in a year all of my classes will be as excellent as these select few.

From Freshman year through Junior year, I was in Orchestra every day, fourth hour, conducted by Mr. S. There are two Orchestras in the school, the lower Strings Orchestra and the higher Chamber Orchestra. I never made it into Chamber Orchestra, but then again I never tried out. I guess I knew I could not have been good enough, and lacked the willpower to do anything about it. For a long time, there was some kind of resentment towards the Chamber Orchestra, probably to mask jealousy or insecurity. Despite my hidden anxiety, fourth hour was always a period I looked forward to. All respects to Mr. S, the class was not really about the teaching. It was about the music. Picking up my violin every day and letting my fingers do the work that they were so good at while my mind wandered was one of the only things that could really lift any anxiety I had, and I almost always had anxiety. The Strings Orchestra played myriad music, of more variety but lesser difficulty than the Chamber Orchestra. The Chamber almost always showed us up at concerts, besides once or twice when the Strings played marvelously on interesting songs while the Chamber unluckily got stuck with some more boring pieces. It was not about competition. It was about making music with your hands. By the time I left Orchestra Senior year to take AP Music Theory, I had spent half of my life playing the Violin. I made friends I’ll never lose and stimulated myself artistically to a degree that I doubt I will ever achieve again. Although the violin is not my passion, it is a part of myself I will never be able to remove.

The first truly great class I encountered that was in the vein of a traditional curriculum was my AP US History class with Mr. R Sophomore year. In many ways, looking back on that class is to me like viewing my ideal of what a High School social studies class should have been. Everyone needs to take US History and pass the Constitution test, but I felt like US History was less of a requirement and more of a privelage. Yes, I had my typical problems of motivation that prevented me from working to my full potential. There will always be worksheets I am too lazy to do, pages I am too lazy to read, and tests I am too lazy to study for. But I was always more motivated to work, read, and study for US History than any other class. This was due almost completely to Mr. R, who is nothing short of a brilliant teacher. The man could be a speech writer for christ’s sake. He stood in front of the class every day and delivered lectures that I will always remember for their passion, and the way he led class involvement was through full class and small group discussions about whatever issue in US History we were covering. His delivery was concise. This is what happened, these are the factors and questions we need to consider, let’s have a discussion. My notes for that class are defining of my personality. A tornado of notes, footnotes, drawings, thoughts, and feelings. I’ll remember US History not just for Mr. R, who might be my favorite High School teacher, but for how it felt like genuinely the first class in higher level education, as most everything in the previous year was BS.

Another class that I took sophomore year that I believe was a real higher level class was Debate with Mr. D. Every sophomore follows the same sophomore English program. For one semester, a sophomore takes a standard English class where literature is studied by varying curriculum. The other semester requires that the student take either a speech or debate class. I chose Debate, and I found myself sitting in Mr. D’s room. Mr. D is a man I will never forget…With the towering appearance of perhaps a lumberjack, or as he put it, Hagrid, he was a man of presence. When Mr. D talks, you listen. Debate was a lot of work. I’ll remember how silent the class always was when we were not actually debating, and then how each presentation lit the room on fire for just a few seconds only to have the flames die down again. It was not a fun class to do work for. There was a lot of paperwork, but there was also a lot of group work. We were forced to work together in studying difficult issues and learned how to create coherent arguments about any given topic, on either side. Mr. D is an extremely leftist individual, but surprisingly enough, he was able to keep his opinions balanced. I will never forget his speeches on gun control, wellfare, taxes, war and countless other issues. I will also never forget going up on stage, desperate for points, after the school macho man who had just made an extremely organized speech on something or other, and receiving a massive amount of points simply for stating my opinion and how it was in conflict with his. It taught me that just being there and speaking out really means something. This class more than achieved its goals.

In Junior year, I once again had Mr. R for a social studies class, this time Sociology. I confess, the only reason I signed up for Sociology was because I wanted to have Mr. R again. Luckily, Sociology was just as rewarding of a class as US History. I knew by Junior year that I was interested in pursuing Psychology in college. However, I had not yet taken a psychology class. I was hoping to take one over the summer before Junior year, but an irreconcilable road trip to Washington D.C. got in the way, and by the time class registration rolled about, there was no way to switch to Psychology from any other class. In Sociology, I was one of three Juniors in a class of Seniors. I felt somewhat like an outsider. However, the work and learning was still there. This was a good introduction to psychology because it worked with possibly the most applicable school of psychology right off the bat. It was a study of how societies and cultures worked, and also about specific societies and cultures, and their characteristics such as norms, linguistics, and taboos. The three Juniors were not outsiders in practice…We participated in class discussions that Mr. R was so wonderful at setting up. But in spirit, we were observers, which was probably the best thing we could have asked for. It seems like implausible irony, but the Seniors were in constant conflict and there was always some kind of drama within the class. The class was not a microcosm to aid our study, but I did feel like it was an exploration in social psychology that helped me appreciate Sociology much more. Particularly memorable was a discussion on class conflict that brought an individual to tears. Possibly the height of my social studies experience in high school.

The Junior English curriculum also allows for some options. In fact, now that I think about it, the English department might allow more options than any other department in the building, save perhaps Social Studies which matches its versatility. One could opt to take a Junior English class known as Interrelated Arts which was a study of just about every kind of contemporary art form, taking advantage of the great city of Chicago for lots of the studying. I however opted to take Junior English Honors, and I ended up with Mrs. R (no relation to Mr. R). It was not completely obvious to me right away that the class was as great as it really was. I disliked a considerable portion of the class…There was a row of about five people that did not seem to be able to quiet themselves and always drew unnecessary attention and distracted from the class. Mrs R was late to grade many papers and at first came off as irresponsible, which is an assumption that I now cringe to think about making. The truth of it was that Mrs. R was a full time mother of two as well as a full time teacher, so she had more than a full day of work to deal with within any 24 hour block of time. My other English classes before then, save Debate, were aimed toward the studies of classic works, some of which were enjoyable and some of which not so much. Yeah, I enjoyed reading The Lord of the Flies in Freshman year, but beyond that, none of the readings in High School had truly inspired me until Junior English. We studied myriad short stories of both the romantic movement and the realism movement. This alone was a breakthrough for my learning. I never really knew what it meant to be romantic or realistic in literature before then, so it was wonderful to be able to learn one of modern literature’s most important concepts straightaway. We also read the wonderful book The Great Gatsby, a fantastic combination of romanticism and realism, Hamlet, and The Scarlett Letter. Admittedly, I hated reading the Scarlett Letter save the odd chapter that would inspire me (A Flood of Sunshine makes no sense in the course of the book, at least in terms of its brilliance compared to the inconsistency of the rest of the book), but I learned a lot from reading it about myself and my tastes. Also very memorable was our experience with a Kindergarten class in the district, in which all of us found pen pals. Every few weeks, we would receive and write letters to our pen pals who were learning to read at the time. The act of discussing things with them was part of their reading and writing education, and by the end of the year, I definitely saw improvement in my pen pal, and was very happy to visit him and the rest of his class. I had never really experienced teaching firsthand before then. It gave me a good idea of what it really means to teach, and made me consider how different teaching Kindergarten and High School must be. An infinitely rewarding class despite its shortcomings.

By the time I took Psychology in Senior year, I had already decided I wanted to be a Psychology major. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was just starting to figure out how my brain worked that made me interested in psychology. It just seemed like such a basic, important study to me… The study of people. Taking Sociology the previous year only encouraged my interest. Lucky for me, my first Psychology class was perfect to start me off in the subject. The class was taught by Mr. G, a smart, fast thinking, smooth talking teacher who seemed to have captured the hearts of many of my female friends at the time. He was not fluff. His teaching style worked because everyone listened to him. Yes, there was a fair share of psychology videos, and nothing substitutes for reading the book thoroughly, but Mr. G always did the best he could to explain the main concepts as best as he could within class time and was always available to go in depth if we needed him to. I also loved the multitude of projects we were assigned within the semester. I loved the development project we partook in which made us explore our own development in particular. And I’ll never forget my own involvement in the teaching of classical conditioning…I was seated in front of the entire class. Mr. G read off a list of words. Whenever he said the word “can,” I was squirted in the eye with water from a spray bottle. I guarantee I will never forget the principles of classical conditioning. But I think what really made Psychology fun and memorable for me was the subject itself. I love Psychology, and learning the subject from the ground up was very rewarding.

The English department at my High School pulls something new out of it’s sleeves every year after the relatively standard Freshman English program. Sophomore year requires a Speech or Debate class. Junior year offers Interrelated Arts. But Senior year is the trump card, offering myriad options including Logic and Rhetoric, Creative Writing, Religious Quest, and my second semester choice, Film Criticism. My initial thought on Film Criticism was that it would be a rewarding class for me, an amateur writer and critic already, and I would be able to spend a class period a day enjoying one of my favorite mediums of art. I changed my mind soon after. Film Criticism started to sound like a disaster. A class full of second semester Seniors with little to lose, and little reason to do anything but screw off for an entire class period a day. The catch was that Mr. D, who was also my Sophomore Debate teacher, was the teacher for Film Crit. Like Debate class, Film Criticism had a massive, inordinate amount of paperwork. Yes, for about four days a week are spent watching movies, but as a student on the honors system in the class, I was required to read around five reviews or articles on a given movie per week, write extensive notes on the current film, read from my film criticism textbook, take a test on the odd day we weren’t actually watching a film, and write a report on each film. There was simply no time to slack off in the class, and because of how the class was built, we had to pay close attention to each film. Luckily, Mr. D was brilliant at choosing films and units of films to watch. We started off watching Minority Report, a light action adventure film with some deeper meaning that can be explored. The “Future Anxiety” unit continued, getting progressively more challenging, and the films in the unit got more ideologically complex as well as cinematically exciting. Even Mr. D questioned the quality of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, but it forced us to take sides in an issue that high school seniors just don’t think about very much. We also watched Blade Runner, one of my favorite films, and Mr. D’s commentary on the films style and themes was extremely enlightening. The films only got more and more challenging. The next unit was the “Gender and Power” unit, with films ranging from the brilliant Afghani independent film Osama to the cheap thrill ride of Thelma and Louise. Then, the exhausting, brutal six film war unit, including Dr. Stangelove, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, and Path’s of Glory. Finally clinching the year with one of the most challenging films I have ever watched, Dead Man Walking. What was most impressive about Mr. D was his unfailing ability to provide insight on every issue in frank, nonbiased way. After every film, the class would sit and have a discussion. We were usually quiet, not so much because it was nine in the morning but because we might have been speechless, and nothing we could have said could possibly have held a candle to anything Mr. D said. The big trick with Senior Film Criticism was that it was essentially a philosophy class in disguise. This was just how Mr. D operated. He drew us in with the medium of film itself, but what the class was really about was issues that we have to deal with in our modern world. He provided support for every point of view, and the passion with which he spoke about film was inspiring, and he made it clear that there was nothing he would rather be talking about than the art of film. I hope I can someday be as passionate a teacher as Mr. D, perhaps even in the same class, but realistically I don’t know if it gets much better than him.

These are my favorite classes from High School which I singled out for their educational value, and I will probably never forget them. While the majority of my High School education was sub par in comparison, they made the whole experience worth it, and I can only hope to have as rewarding classes in college. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes once it comes to it.


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