Unit Plan – Writing Satire

Personal Teaching Philosophy

My personal teaching philosophy boils down to one very important belief: all children deserve a high quality education. It is important not only for the children, but for society as a whole. Without educated citizens, democracy crumbles. Authoritarians prey on ignorance. They rely on keeping the public in darkness and reliant on them, the authoritarians, for light. If we carry our own light, though, then we diminish their power.

It is for these reasons that educators must avoid being authoritarians in their own classrooms. The words “because I said so” should never be spoken, because those words are antithetical to the very idea of education. Education should be a process of working with students cooperatively, teaching to their strengths and helping them with their weaknesses. Schools should not have an “us vs. them” atmosphere of teachers and administrators versus students, because in that battle nobody wins.

I have made a mid-life pivot to teaching because I believe it is the single most important profession I could do. I’m not a biologist, so I’m never going to create the cure for cancer. I’m not a physicist, so I’m never going to discover the secret of faster-than-light space travel. I am, however, a life-long learner and someone who enjoys nothing more than sharing what he has learned. To be an effective learner—and an effective teacher—one must be open to changing one’s mind. As a species, our understanding of the world around us is constantly evolving as we discover new things and learn new information. As individuals, we must be willing to evolve as well. The pedagogy used in classrooms today is vastly different than what was used when I was a child, and thank goodness for that. Teaching as a whole has gotten better and more effective, and it must continue to do so. There is only ever more information to teach, never less.

With that in mind, my pledge as a teacher is to never stop learning, to never be complacent or resistant to change, to always seek truth, and to know that I can always do better. Complacency is the enemy of progress, and it is the enemy of democracy. Those who would subject us to tyranny count on complacency, ignorance, and fear to help them do so. Education is the antidote to all of those things.

A Description of My Classroom

A classroom should be a safe and supportive environment for students. It should be conducive to learning by being conducive to discussion, having the essential tools necessary for students to learn, and being an environment in which students want to learn. A cold, gray box with unadorned walls, harsh fluorescent lighting, and desks all arranged in rows facing the front of the classroom is not a welcoming environment students want to spend time in. It doesn’t foster discussion; it fosters listening to the teacher dole out information.

As I’ve been substitute teaching, I’ve been paying attention to what works and what doesn’t work in classroom layouts. Granted, much of that is subjective. What one person considers decoration, another might consider distraction. There are some common themes I’ve seen emerge in the most successful classrooms, though, and those are the things I want to replicate.

For the seating arrangement, I intend to arrange desks in clusters of four to facilitate frequent small group discussions. Overhead fluorescent lights are out, to be replaced with floor lamps and string lights that approximate warm, incandescent lighting as closely as possible (while still being energy efficient). The amount of bare wall will be minimized through the use of art, informational and inspirational posters, student work, and strategically deployed removable vinyl wallpaper. There will also be a whole lot of bookshelves, stocked with as many books as I can procure without being deemed a hoarder.

To minimize the barrier between teacher and student, I will be using a moveable standing desk or lectern with just enough space for either a laptop or a wireless keyboard and mouse. Even that I will spend as little time behind as possible, instead using the majority of class time to circulate among the students. I will also have a “backpacks under your desk, please” policy to minimize my tripping and falling, which I am especially prone to do.

Classroom Demographics

This unit is designed with a 10th through 12th grade classroom in mind. An understanding of and appreciation for irony is needed for both reading and writing satire that a younger age range might not have developed yet. Even at the 10th grade level it might be challenging, but it depends on the student. As such, it would be better suited for a higher-level creative writing class than, for instance, Intro to English.

One difficulty that might come up in teaching this unit is determining where the boundary is between appropriate and inappropriate. Particularly when teaching “A Modest Proposal,” a piece that, while considered a classic work of literature, also satirically discusses eating babies. Without proper guidance, some students might take away the wrong lesson from the text and focus on the shock value without considering the social commentary behind it.

There is also the question of what topics are permissible when allowing students to select their own topics about which to write their pieces of satire. The teacher would need to allow as much freedom as possible but also make a judgment call on anything that might compromise the classroom as a safe space. This is, of course, easier said than done when it comes to satire, but that fact in itself presents a learning opportunity for students. That lesson is particularly important at a time when certain groups such as white nationalists espouse hatred on social media and then use “I was only kidding” as a defense when confronted about it. In other words, to teach students what satire is, it is necessary to also teach them what satire is not. Doing so, however, would make them more savvy users and consumers of social media.

Rationale for this Unit

Satire is a creatively and historically important form of writing, but one that is often overlooked in the classroom. It can be funny like The Onion or shocking like “A Modest Proposal,” both of which are used as examples in this unit. Most importantly, it can help convey a message in a way that can be entertaining but also effective, if not at inspiring change then at least inspiring thought.

For as many examples there are of good satire, though, there are many more examples of bad satire, particularly in the realm of social media, where some bad actors apply the label to themselves in a ruse to avoid deplatforming for their racist, sexist, or otherwise hateful messages. Learning to discern genuine satire from bad faith applications of the label is important for modern students to avoid being influenced by the worst of the Internet. It also helps them consider their audience and the fact that satire can be misinterpreted in ways that might come back to haunt them if they are not careful with how they present it.

Unit Calendar

Lesson 1 – Satire: What Is It?

Lesson 2 – Local Student Writes Own Satire Piece

Lesson 3 – What Is Satire and What Purpose

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