All posts by Christopher Le


When discussing AI, I’m reminded of this old newspaper clipping.

As calculators proliferated the classroom, teachers angrily took to the streets in fear of what would happen. But what actually happened was…well, mostly good. Calculators supplemented our study of arithmetic, made us more efficient, and raised the bar for math literacy. I believe AI is the English teacher’s calculator.

I cannot deny the efficacy of a chat generator in assisting a student with essay composition. If used correctly, it can give them any number of ideas to supplement their writing: research questions, search terminology, counterclaims, revisions, etc. It can do things for them in seconds that I, as their teacher and aide, would need more processing time to accomplish.

We can’t ignore it. We are going to have to reinvent the way our classrooms function in order to properly utilize this new tool, and those boundaries are still very much undefined. One thing we absolutely must not do is continue running from the issue as if it will ever go away. It is here. And, yes, it is scary. However, if we can just reimagine our processes, we will find ourselves on a higher plane of learning. The redundancies that we endlessly re-teach in the English classroom will go by the wayside as we embrace new ways of writing and thinking.  We must only be willing to start the process of re-invention.

There’s a scene at the end of Fahrenheit 451—Ray Bradbury’s classic and contentious cautionary tale—that starkly underlines one of the novel’s subtle themes. After a lifetime of burning books as a ‘firefighter’, the newly jobless Guy Montag stumbles upon travelers living on the outskirts of civilization. The travelers have each dedicated their lives to remembering books, serving as the imperfect keepers for stories that would otherwise be lost to the world.

As Montag learns about their way of life, he watches the men huddle around fires for warmth. He notices how they use fires to cook their food. Fire, the weapon he had used to destroy culture throughout the book, was now a benevolent tool.  

Funny enough, Bradbury’s writing often warns against the dangers of an overreliance on technology; however, this scene alone reminds us that ethical failings are forever man-made. Technology is a tool. Like fire, we can use AI to burn everything down. Or, like these travelers, we can use it to enrich our lives. The decision is in our hands.

When I have the AI discussion with my classes, this is the moral conundrum that I present them with. Yes, the tool can absolutely write your essays for you. But, in that same vein, your car could be a death machine. Or it can take you to the hospital. Your knife can cut someone. Or it can chop your vegetables up. We must be taught how to use the tools given to us correctly—and we must choose to use them correctly.

Like the Phoenix, we are going through the fires. But what emerges from those flames will be rebirth.

P.S. Montag is German for Monday—the start of a new week. The logo of the firefighters is a salamander: if you lop off the tail, it’ll grow back anew. Every major symbol in the novel points to new beginnings. That’s what we have to be willing to embrace—a new beginning.


Here and There

As an adjunct/dual enrollment teacher, my workspace is the frantic–often smelly–high school classroom. There are always crumbs on the ground, some combination of Takis and Cheez-Its crushed into an ancestral carpet. Said carpet has been sliced in places, duct-taped back together to rectify persistent speed bumps that have risen up from years of traffic and heat. On the weekends, when I journey to GCC’s Main Campus to teach, the classrooms in the HT2 building feel comparatively otherworldly with their clean white walls, well-maintained carpets, and movie theater quality projectors. I must admit that I take an excessive inhale whenever I step into HT2 to appreciate its consistently clean smell–please tell me I’m not alone in doing that.

Despite the adoration I have for the pristine campus at GCC, I will forever love the personality and homeliness that my high school classroom provides. While GCC feels like some sort of champion bloodline hound on a pedestal, my classroom is the mutt in the shelter–a mixture of everything, impossible not to love.

On the walls, I’ve plastered posters from all walks of life. Like any English classroom, there are references to literary stuff–my love for The Great Gatsby can never be suppressed–but there are also tons of pop culture references. Comic books, anime, sports. memes, musicals, movies–take a look at some snippets of my wall and see how many you recognize. Indeed, that’s a favorite pastime for students of mine. And that’s the best part.

Every poster, no matter how random, is a conversation starter. Students will excitedly come and dork out with me about the latest chapter in an on-going manga or we’ll chat about our favorite songs from a certain musician. These decorations help me build the bonds with students that encourage them to succeed in my classroom. 

You don’t have to look far to find evidence of that success. It’s all documented in my favorite part of my classroom: the inspiration wall. These are all the tear-stained notes, letters, cards, and graduation announcements from previous students. If I’m ever having a down day, I look at my inspiration wall and remember the impact I can have. When we’re mired in the day-to-day grind of teaching, it’s easy to forget the long-term impact we have on our students.

So, anyway, yes–my workspace is quite unrefined. And, again, it smells awful. And yes, I still trip on the carpet from time to time. But it’s my heart on the sleeve.


All that Jazz in the Classroom

by Christopher Le

I’ll admit right away that I don’t know much about the intricacies of jazz.

Growing up, my exposure to the genre came mostly from late nights driving home from soccer practice with my dad in his dusty Toyota MR2. At the time, I thought he loved jazz and so I loved it too.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned my dad simply never switched the radio channel over after NPR’s daily news went off the air. I had come to love a genre of music through a thoughtless error, a missed click of the dial.

Mistake or not, jazz music became part of the soundtrack of my life. As I think back on my brief decade of teaching, it is jazz that I go back to. Those cool, drifting melodies that never sound quite the same upon consecutive listens seem to be the perfect analogy for my experiences in the classroom.

If you’re not quite sure what all the fuss is about, maybe let Ryan Gosling explain it to you. In La La Land, Sebastian (Gosling) is telling Mia (Emma Stone) why jazz is so fascinating to him. His descriptions of it match how I view teaching.

“See what’s at stake. I mean, look at this sax player—he just hijacked this song, he’s on his own trip. Every one of these guys is composing, they’re re-arranging, they’re writing, and they’re playing the melody…and so, it’s conflict, and it’s compromise, and it’s just—it’s new! Every time. It’s brand new every night. It’s very, very exciting.”

I mean, c’mon. Tell me that isn’t teaching. You step into the room and you’re trying to teach the competencies, y’know…follow the melody. But as you do, you’re changing and modifying and adapting and making every learning experience different for the students in your classroom. When you’re doing it right, when you’re moving and grooving, no two performances are the same. That’s jazz. That’s teaching.

One jazz standard stands out as my favorite: “All of Me.”  

Countless music legends have moseyed through this song—Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Bublé,—uh, Willie Nelson? Yeah, even Willie Nelson took a stab at the enduring melody.

“All of me, why not take all of me? Can’t you see? I’m no good without you.”

Now, the song itself is about a lover giving themselves over entirely. For me, that idea definitely resonates when I consider how I approach my job. I’ve given everything to this career. For the most part, that’s been a beautiful thing. With teaching, you really do get out what you put in. Putting in everything I have to this job has given me countless memories accompanied by easy smiles.

But, of course, any singular pursuit can lead to a little bit of heartache.

“You took the part that once was my heart. So why not take all of me?”

When I’m on the stage in the classroom, I’m playing so many different roles for my students. It’s enough to leave anyone feeling drained. Sometimes, when I come home and I’ve left all of me in the classroom, there isn’t enough left for my family. We work a brutal job. It takes everything you’ve got to be a good teacher. But it’s hard not to love it when you see the fruits of your labor.

“So why not take all of me?”