Our Reading Lives

Reflections From a Soon-to-Be High School English Teacher

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

As a lifelong, unrepentant book nerd, I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself here—poised to become a high school English teacher. I believe that most lifelong book nerds have, at one point, considered this as an option. After all, according to teen movies, high school English classes have an incredible power over your life. They seem to always have texts that are perfect metaphors for your current struggles. Plus, show me an English major who hasn’t been asked “Oh, so you’re going to teach?”

In case you have ever considered this path, I thought I would share my experiences so far. These are only reflective of my own journey: a Secondary PDPP in BC, Canada in 2018. Change any of those factors, and this experience would be markedly different. I have just finished my first (of three) semesters, and I have many thoughts.

Here’s one: it’s not about the books. Going into teaching English because you love books is likely not going to end well. Of course, I do love books, and I will incorporate that passion into the classroom, but it can’t be foundation. It has to be centred on the students and their well-being—not only teaching content, but also keeping those students safe and giving them the help they need. It is very unlikely that you will have an entire class that is enthusiastic about literature.

Another point that is really about the particular curriculum that I’ll be teaching: it’s really not about books. ELA (in BC) has shifted away from novels to include all kinds of media. There are ELA teachers using Spider-Man and Incredibles movies as texts. There’s an English option that is entirely oral language. New Media invites in hypertext or tweets as text worthy of study.

Frankly, it’s exciting. I love the idea of using memes in class, and teaching how to write a proper Instagram caption or twitter thread. We can still teach books (obviously) and will (obviously), but the freedom allows way more room to adapt the classes to suit students’ needs and interests. I was ready to sneak in social justice and digital media in the classroom either way, so I was happily surprised to find both in the curriculum (according to the teacher core competencies, I should be acting as a “change agent” for “justice and equity.”)

One weird part of being in this program is considering my online footprint. I have been using my real name the entire time that I’ve been writing online—at the Lesbrary, on Book Riot, Youtube, Goodreads, and plenty of other places. I’m proud of the work I’ve done online around queer women representation in books, but it has become something I’ve grappled with: how much do I want students to be able to easily find about me? I don’t plan to be closeted, but do I have to worry about a student finding an erotica review I did eight years ago? And regardless of my reasoning, I can’t go back now. There’s no reeling in my decade of internet presence now. At the moment, I’m planning on going by a different name as a teacher. It seems like the only way I can do both freely.

I’m only at the beginning of this journey. I know enough to see that I have a lot more to learn. In a few months, I’ll be stepping in front of a class for the first time. It’s one thing to know the theory, but it’s a very different thing to act it out. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the training to becoming a high school English teacher, or if you’re interested in seeing another reflection later along the line. If you are a teacher already, please pass along any tips you can spare for an aspiring English teacher/teacher librarian!