Soehl Middle School language arts teacher Jan Macha set up a tent in his classroom and dimmed the lights to give his students a more authentic setting in which to explore horror literature.
By Gary Miller
“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.” – Edgar Allen Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”
* * *
In conceiving of how to teach his eighth-grade students about Edgar Allen Poe’s horror classic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Soehl Middle School language arts teacher Jan Macha wanted to include a taste of haunting realism. The kind that might come from telling scary stories around a campfire.
That’s when the idea entered his brain.
Macha came up with a plan to have his students read the story while sitting inside a tent in a darkened classroom, with night sounds playing in the background.
“The whole idea came up because I went camping recently,” he said. “I was sitting there with my family and I was thinking this would be cool to have in my classroom, because it would really bring the atmosphere.”
Macha and his students sat with their textbooks in the tent, taking turns reading passages from the story and discussing literary elements such as irony, symbolism and plot. Each student used a small flashlight to read in the dark, which Macha said could seem like a distraction but actually helps the students focus.
“They are zooming in sentence by sentence,” he said. “It actually gives you focus. You would think it’s going to be a distraction, which I was afraid of at first. So there are multiple levels to how this works.”
Soehl Principal Isabella Scocozza praised Macha for his creativity.
“Mr. Macha utilizes a variety of instructional strategies within his language arts lessons in order to keep all of his students engaged,” she said. “He goes above and beyond in his classroom and has a passion for the subject matter.
“Pitching a tent in his classroom is just one of the many ways that he creates an engaging and exciting learning experience. He connects with his students on a deeper and inspiring level.”
The tent idea grabbed the attention of News 12 New Jersey, who sent videographer Andrew Chase to do a feature on the lesson for the station’s “Education Matters” segment.
Macha said his goal is to introduce different ways of allowing the students to engage in the material and to get excited to learn.
“To me it’s everything,” he said. “That’s why I teach. Being able to make a difference in a kid’s life is amazing.”
A key mantra that Macha preaches to his students is family, which builds trust and teamwork among students. Their in-class camping trip fits perfectly.
“The idea is that we’re sitting together as a family,” he said. “If you don’t capture their heart, you’re not capturing their brain.”