The Year as a Story Arc
I once attended Robert McKee’s Story Seminar (as part of professional development no less), and one of the big takeaways I got from that is how beneficial it is to work out an outline of the big picture before writing individual scenes. To me, a year in teaching is like a story arc, a three-trimester play with a beginning, middle, and end.
Thinking this way about my teaching has helped me make my classroom experience more cohesive and purposeful. No matter what strange or unexpected things my characters do, I know it’s all going to make sense in an overarching narrative. I like to think it also helps students feel like I’m not just making things up as I go along.
I can take the metaphor further. Characters should end up, in the end, different than they were in the beginning. Not only should they have gone on an adventure, maybe picked up some skills along the way, but they should have a renewed sense of themselves growing into maturity. This is only achieved by confronting them with ever-challenging crises. Things only get interesting if the stakes are high and the risks are real. Setbacks may happen, but fate should intervene. I am, after all, going for a comedy and not a tragedy.
The main plot of the year is the students’ engagement with the texts we read. It’s their sinking ever deeper into the transformative power of words, both in others and in their own. It’s entering the conversation started by Scripture and Homer and Shakespeare and countless other readers and writers and poets.
There are subplots in vocabulary, grammar, and technology. And like all good subplots, they reveal the true theme of the year: confidence and maturity in language. Comfort with expression, articulation in communication. Crystallizing for a moment life’s meaning as you have grappled with it so far.
And the climax? The climax of the year, for me, is always Shakespeare. The ultimate unit in Shakespeare always, I believe, tests the furthest and reaps the most.
Finally, one more lesson from this extended analogy: teaching is a daily discipline of creativity. In the end, after you’ve outlined and sketched and planned your heart out, you’ve got to show up every day and make it happen.
Here’s the entire “Plan the Year” series: