Mr. Surridge's English Classes

Newsletter #2 - December 2015

Tenth-Grade Bible Verse for To Kill a Mockingbird

"He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

"If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man" - Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Parent-Teacher Conferences and Candy Voting Results

It was such a pleasure to meet with so many of you during the parent-teacher conferences. While we were only able to speak for a few minutes, it was great to be able to put some names to faces, and become more acquainted with each family. Many parents asked me how they can help their child succeed in English class: encouraging children to read for fun, and checking in on their nightly homework by using the RenWeb portal or the homework calendar at are both great ways to lend a helping hand.

Frequently, I asked parents a particular question: "What should I know about your child that I don't already know?" I hope it goes without saying that the lines of communication remain open on this and any other topic of conversation should we ever need to chat. My contact information is at the end of this newsletter.

During our conferences, I asked you to vote in my candy polling station, specifically in response to the question: "What creative project would you like your child to do in English class?"

Here are the delicious results:

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I should probably state that this voting method was not only highly unscientific, but I ate several of the "ballots" before counting.
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While several of voted for short-story writing, as you can see from this colorful chart, more of you selected autobiography/memoir than comic books, art projects, and poetry combined.

I'm excited to share that our principal, Dr. Kevin Kaemingk, and I have been brainstorming a potential service-learning opportunity next semester, which will give students a chance to write about a memory of theirs and listen to the stories of others in our community. Hopefully, you'll enjoy reading their memory-writing experience. More information to follow in the New Year.

Student Artwork from English Class

Writing and Research - Sophomore - Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Periods

After finishing To Kill a Mockingbird last week, your children completed work on their first, major research papers of the year. Pairing different topics together for their research, no two essays were the same. Working within Harper Lee's novel, students explored resources on such varied subjects as gospel music, the history of women's rights, Southern cooking, segregation, rabies, and much more. Within each paper, sophomores worked with primary and secondary sources, developed bibliographical skills and contextualized quoted material, incorporating paragraph transitions, colons and semicolons, and other writing tools like appositives and hyphens. It made me proud to watch them put all of their first-semester work together into a professional-looking research project. Ask your children what they researched, and perhaps they can share with you something they learned from the assignment.

To Kill a Mockingbird ends with a sobering lesson for young Jem, the son of heroic lawyer Atticus Finch in Depression-era Alabama. The father tells his distraught child that the racial injustice seen in the courtroom would never have took place if children like him and his sister Scout had sat on the all-white, all-male jury. It reminded me of the words of Jesus and how we all should seek to more like children every day, a verse which I shared with the students and can be read at the top of this newsletter.

Honors Writing and Research - Sophomores - Third Period

Each tempest that blasts wind and rain against our classroom window just serves to plunge us deeper into the story of Life of Pi, our current novel about shipwrecks, ocean storms and an Indian boy being lost at sea. Our tenth-grade honors class just finished reading Yann Martel's contemporary classic, and along our way we have used the book to strengthen each student's reading comprehension, comfort level with advanced grammar and punctuation, and ability to use quoted material as evidence in literary analysis.

All sophomores also keep a journal in which they write periodically on certain subjects and share their thoughts with me. It's been exciting to read about how Life of Pi has reawakened within many of them a love for reading. I thought I would anonymously share one student's response:

Student 1: "The books that you have in your curriculum I have really actually enjoyed. I had tried reading Life of Pi but this time was different. I am now hooked on the book and struggle not to read ahead."

More recently we have worked with a list of poetic techniques as we study examples of poems, and create our own. Life of Pi features strong Christian themes, such as the inclusion of a sacrificial Christ figure who dies to save others. This lesson in literary symbolism allowed our class to discuss broader ideas, beyond the pages of the book, like how does God reveal himself in our world? And how can Jesus serve as an inspiration in our life?

Our work is far from finished though as we close our unit with a look at how patterns (motifs) provided foreshadowing throughout the book, in a kind of before-and-after plot recipe. Another five-paragraph analytical essay will follow after Christmas break. Thank you for encouraging your children. I'm confident they will go on to do great things.

American Literature - Juniors - Seventh Period

It might very well be a rite of passage for eleventh graders across the nation: your children have just finished reading The Great Gatsby, one of America's greatest ever novels. I've loved teaching the book and how its timeless message warns young people of the dangers of consumerism, lust, and frivolity.

A major piece of our unit was a research paper that your child just finished writing last week. Each student chose two different topics--from subjects as diverse as the World Series, alcoholism, car accidents, and New York City--and produced an essay wherein they utilized advanced grammar concepts like semicolons with conjunctive adverbs, hyphenated adjective compounds, and advanced appositives. Along with their exploration of primary and secondary sources, inclusion of paragraph transitions and bibliographies, the research paper provides a comprehensive way to tackle many different curriculum objectives, and places each student into the 1920s in an interactive way.

In addition to our lessons on symbolism, irony, and the First World War, The Great Gatsby gives us a wonderful opportunity to talk about one of my favorite literary devices: Christ figures. Jay Gatsby himself serves as a reminder of Jesus in the story: a mysterious stranger who suffers in place of another, takes the blame for a sin he did not commit, and pursues those he loves with dogged determination. It's not a one-to-one analogy-- Gatsby was a bootlegger after all--but like all Christ figures in literature, it serves to remind us of the greatest example of selfless sacrifice the world has ever known.

About Mr. Surridge

I began my teaching career near Atlanta in 2010 after getting my M.A. in Teaching from Walla Walla University in Southeastern Washington. I was born and raised in London, England but have spent the last sixteen years of my life in the United States, specifically in the great states of California, Washington, Idaho, Tennessee, and Georgia. I have been instructing full time at Lynden Christian since January of 2014. I'm married to Lauren Peterson, who until recently taught for two years as a graduate student in the English department at Western Washington University. Given that I have taught English to high school freshmen and she teaches English to college freshman, that makes her approximately four times as smart as I am.