Getting high school students excited about literature might seem like a daunting task, but Kodiak High School teacher LeeAnn Schmelzenbach does it every day and manages to have fun with it.
Schmelzenbach, a Kodiak High School alumna, earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate from Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. She then returned to Kodiak and taught in Ouzinkie from 2005 to 2007, which is where she learned how to teach any subject to all types of students.
“I taught everything, not just English,” Schmelzenbach said. “My primary focus was English with the middle school and high school from sixth through 12th grade. I also taught a health class, an art class, a wilderness survival class, a fisheries science class and precalculus.”
After two years in Ouzinkie, Schmelzenbach moved to Kodiak and worked as a reading specialist at North Star Elementary for a year. She is now in her fifth year as an English teacher at the high school and is working on her master’s degree in reading education.
The Daily Mirror sat down with LeeAnn Schmelzenbach to talk about literature and how she gets her students excited about books.
Q: What grades are you teaching this year, and how many students do you have?
A: I have roughly 115, 120 students. I teach primarily juniors and seniors.
Q: What are you teaching right now in your classroom?
A: In first and sixth hour — my regular world lit classes — we’re in the middle of studying conflict. The overall regular theme for my world lit class is humans and conflict, so we’re looking at all the different perspectives and aspects of what it means to be in conflict, is conflict actually good for people, the outcomes that conflicts produce. The big question they have to answer at the end of the year is “Should humans seek conflict?”
Right now what we’re reading is “The Kite Runner” and “Persepolis” which are both Middle Eastern culture stories. One is about a young man and one is about a young woman who both grow up in an Islamic society that goes through a massive revolution, and both stories are based on a historical truth.
Q: Is it tough to get students excited about reading?
A: Yes, I sales pitch it up front. I make it seem like it’s the coolest story in the world, and I find that weird angle.
My other senior class is studying vampires. It’s not just literary vampires. We’re studying those things in real life that drain us of our energy, how to identify them, and how to defeat them, whether it’s an outside force like a substance abuse issue or an inside force like depression.
The angle is it’s about vampires. To get kids to read it they’re like, “Vampires aren’t real,” and they want to read everything I give them to prove me wrong.
It’s probably the hardest part of the job is getting kids to read, but the other thing I do is read out loud a lot. They do some independent reading on their own and a lot of writing.
Q: How many books a year do the students in your class read?
A: My regular seniors will read close to eight. My intro to world lit seniors will read six and my junior class will end up reading six as well, and they’re all different books for each class. I read about 20 books during the winter, and that doesn’t include my own reading for my graduate program and for fun.
Q: What skills do you think the students learn in English lit that they can take in life?
A: First and foremost, they learn how to think for themselves. They learn how to weigh what is being asked of them and what they are capable of and the consequences both positive and negative of the actions that they take.
Another skill a lot of my students take with them is they learn how to organize their thoughts in writing. Another big piece is they learn to love literature again.
Q: What makes you love your job?
A: The kids. Every year I get a different group of students and they think so differently from the year before and their interests are so different from the year before. I’m constantly adjusting my literary choices. It’s always a challenge.
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at email@example.com.