#5 Lesson Planning with James Cross

James Cross

English Teacher — Lakewood High School/ Director of AP Oxford Academy


 Segment I – Background and Inspiration

Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught? 

– This is his 40th year in the classroom. He was hired over the telephone in 1974… sight unseen at St. John Bosco High School. At Bosco he was allowed to grow professionally, becoming the department chair. He left there is 2000 because he wanted to stay in the classroom and not become principal. He is now at Lakewood High School, where he also coaches soccer, which he has done since he began teaching. Through it all, the students have allowed him to endure and prevent teacher burnout.

 Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?

– He was taught by great teachers himself. His  5th grade teacher — Sister Patricia — was an early influence. She had 47 students in the class and had a handle on everything. He went to a Franciscan brother high school who were always ready, always prepared. Another professor, Bill Leary, advocated for the teacher being the authority over the text. We as teachers should be authorities over all facets of the text. Finally, his wife, Debbie, during his first year, compelled him to teach and treat everyone in the classroom as if they were your nieces and nephews. 

It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.


– A young man, who was not doing well in class, went over to the window, said “I had enough” and jumped out. Thankfully, the busses were there, and Jim just turned to the class and said, “well, I guess I have one less paper to grade.” A way to avoid a lot of pitfalls of a failed lesson is being well prepared and having back ups ready to go. 

Why teach English and the language arts?

– Teaching allows us to save civilization one desk at a time and language gives us more of an identity that the information in our wallets. Fitzgerald said “a writer who is anything, must be a mirror of what going on in the world” and literature allows us to see the artistic perspective on the times. 


What is one thing that you love about the classroom?

 –  Jim loves its spontaneity  He is teaching Heart of Darkness right now and there are four different versions of the text that is being taught with each class period.  


Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies


 What book do you recommend to a developing teacher?

— Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach Guide for Reflection and Renewal, 10th Anniversary Edition. It advocates for the sacredness of the classroom. Palmer peaks of not only the courage to teach, but also the fear of a teacher going into the classroom is a natural fear, but one that can be harnessed into a positive force of energy. Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher’s Survival Guide and With Rigor for All, Second Edition: Meeting Common Core Standards for Reading Literature by Carol Jago are also recommended. The latter argues that all students deserve to be exposed to worthy work of literature. He uses Jago as his text for curriculum development with his teaching-candidatestudents at Cal-State Long Beach.


What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?

 – Being well prepared is an important step one can do outside the classroom. He also uses coaching to make connections with students outside of the classroom. Beyond that, Jim believes that we must not neglect to take care of, and plan for ourselves (family, recreation, health, etc). 

 Is there an internet resource that you can recommend which will help teachers grow professionally?

  Education Week, NCTE, and The College Board, yet he is wary of depending on the internet, he believes personal interaction and workshops is more important than searching in isolation on the internet. He believes one is better of spending that time with colleagues because it maximizes economy of time and economy of effort. 

What can a teacher can do to make students better writers?

 – He breaks writing down into three parts — structure, content, and style. He does not point every mistake but gives focused feedback.

What novel or poem do you love to teach and why?

— Too many to choose just one…Hamlet, Heart of Darkness, The Dead, Wuthering Heights, Arcadia, Going After Cacciato, The Tempest




3 thoughts on “#5 Lesson Planning with James Cross

  1. Mr. James Cross is the perfect example of a teacher that inspires students to learn. I was blessed to have him in 1983.

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