Dear New AP Language Teacher,

Dear New AP Language Teacher,

We need to talk. You’re about to fall madly in love with a course, and because I used to be married (and I mean this in almost every sense of the word) to said course, I need to prep you. Listen up.

AP English Language is DEMANDING.

The planning and grading load will overwhelm you. Not may—will.  With the work load and exam pressures, the course can easily consume you. Set your boundaries now. Decide now whether you will take work home at night. Decide now whether you’re going to start from scratch and figure it out on your own or take advantage of the thousands of high school English teachers across the country who collaborate and generously support each other.

There will be no honeymoon.

You’re going to straight from the wedding (hopefully, an APSI) to having 30 (or 90 or 150) mouths to feed. This is just not the kind of curriculum that allows for two weeks of dancing around while you wait on the school to get past the ten-day count. Read more about that first week.

The course is used to living with its mother.

In some schools—those that treat AP Language like an elitist private club that only the smartest can enter—there will be students who have never made anything below an A. Bless ‘em. These are the ones whose parents will ask for a conference with you because a child made a 94 on an assignment. (I wish I were just being facetious or hyperbolic here with this example.) Be prepared to explain standards-based grading and why a student is not yet demonstrating mastery. (We do have 22 specific skills for this course now, so just go ahead and laminate page 19 of the CED.) Be prepared as well to do the very hard work of NOT giving zeros for missing work. It’s bad grading policy, and here’s why.

Counseling is a must.

You’ll have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re going to need to seek people who have done it. There are two groups you must join. Even if FB is not your preferred platform, you need to come join AP Language & Composition Teachers and AP Language & Composition Resource Group for Teachers. My own smaller group, High School English with Angie Kratzer, is slowly but surely growing and getting active. Search the files. Ask questions. Give at least as much as you take. Veteran AP Lang teachers run these groups, and they don’t play. There are AP exam table leaders and former question leaders in the groups, and they are generous and patient. I’ll see you there.

Emulation is important.

DO NOT START FROM SCRATCH. You would never enter an actual marriage having never seen couples interact before. You would have no idea how to function together. The same thing is true for AP English Language. This first year, just do what other teachers are doing. You may do that for two or three years before you find your own groove and make the course fit your own teaching style. College Board suggests nine broad unit plans, and the outlines begin on page 20 of the Course and Exam Description. I’m an oddly linear thinker for an English teacher, so I tend to pace my course differently than the frequently-spiraled version from College Board. Here’s a quick five-minute video on different ways to pace the course and the way I do it.

If you would like to see how I pace a year-long course, I’ll send you my 180-day pacing guide. If you would like to see how I pace a semester course, I’ll send you my 90-day pacing guide.

I hope you chose this marriage, that it is more than a blind date or a forced arrangement. However you got here, you won’t regret being in this place with these kids. You are going to love, love, love teaching AP Language, even when your eyes are crossed from all the grading and you’ve been humbled once again by a student whose thinking just blows you away.

Remember this: You are and will always be the best reader, writer, and thinker in the room.  You are capable and equipped, and you’ve got this. And WE’VE GOT YOU.  


I’m a recovering high school English teacher and curriculum specialist with a passion for helping teachers leave school at school. I create engaging, rigorous curriculum resources for secondary ELA professionals, and I facilitate workshops to help those teachers implement the materials effectively.