New English Classes Create Commotion Among Upperclassmen

Adding new electives constructs good change

Emma Martinez Sutton, Editor-in-Chief

When students registered for classes for next year, they were met with a majorly reworked English course selection. In the 2020-2021 school year, nine new English electives will be offered and Ancient Roots, an option for freshmen, will be removed. 

Although a couple new English courses each year is normal, the English department met this year to make more holistic changes. Rick Cawood, the English Language Arts Department Chair, describes the changes as, “renewal– just sort of thinking why are we doing what we’re doing and how can we make that even better… That’s sort of the driving force… what would we do if we just wiped everything clean and started afresh?”

English teacher Scott Hollander says, “I think it’s great that we’re not taking anything for granted as a department and that we’re all embracing a change… I think one of the most important challenges as a teacher is staying in the reality of teaching individual people… not teaching a course, a group of students… so that means staying focused, staying fresh, and staying creative,” which he believes the change of classes will encourage teachers to be. 

Members of the English department met during two half days this year to rethink the curriculum and propose new ideas. Cawood says, “It wasn’t just content– it was also the manner in which students want to learn.” Teachers reflected on different learning styles, the perceived interests of students, and the patterns they see in students’ mistakes to improve English curriculum.

The English department also gained inspiration from other independent schools across the country and the types of courses they offer. After exploring many possibilities, the department worked to balance their ideal vision with a system that will allow teachers to be invested in all their classes. Cawood says, “We can’t change 100% of everything… we can make broad and deep changes but they should be manageable and intentional.”

Along with the new upperclassmen electives, another notable change is the removal of Ancient Roots. For the past several years, incoming freshmen have been able to choose between World Literature and Ancient Roots, but the latter will now be integrated into World Literature. Cawood says, “[Ancient Roots] was less of an absolute option for students and more of just something that was offered two periods of the day so it was determined more off your schedule.” For this reason, the two classes will be rolled into one to create “a unified course that gives everyone the same skills base and powerful experience.”

Of course, the abundant changes come with some resistance from students. Natalie Sabes ‘21 says, “I was excited for the senior electives because I feel like they were more personalized… for my whole high school career I’ve been hearing about these fun English electives like Creative Writing that are what I looked forward to and immediately when I get to take them they vanish.” 

Teachers, however, are confident that the new courses will provide diverse and interesting experiences for all students. Cawood says, “I know that there might be some concern among students about, ‘well oh this course that I’ve heard so much about is no longer there,’ but all of those courses too that have become favorites of the current seniors, all of those courses were new at one time too.”