Celebration and Subsequent Meditations

January 18, 2011 Comments Off on Celebration and Subsequent Meditations

Today was two momentous occasions in one. First of all, it was the first day of classes…for everyone else! It is my first first day of school with no school in 20 years. Momentous! The other occasion was my friend Rachael’s Teach for America business. Not only the final verdict—she got in!—but the day-long ordeal of waiting for said 7pm verdict. If I had been in her shoes, I would have wanted someone with me to distract me all day long, so I provided that service for her…possibly without asking whether she wanted it, I can’t remember. Anyway, in June she is going to Phoenix to train for teaching, and then she’ll be teaching high school English in Oklahoma. We listed what we know about Oklahoma:

  • The wind comes sweeping down the plains.
  • The Dust Bowl.
  • Bombs.

That is what we know about Oklahoma.

It seems to me that English is one subject whose existence is particularly difficult to justify. I like it, so of course I’m in favor, but I think English is important in ways that are subjective, foggy, and spiritual, all of which make it more difficult to argue for than, say, algebra. It’s such an ingrained part of the curriculum that I doubt it will ever be removed, but its amorphous benefits are not apparent to high-schoolers, and I wonder if English classes are in a lot of ways the hardest to teach.

I’m not going anywhere with these musings. I’m just thinking hard about what it’s going to be like for Rachael, to an extent that is maybe silly for someone who isn’t actually going to be facing an Oklahoma high school English class. It’s the challenge in all those stupid heartwarming inspiring-teacher movies: how do you make students care? And I suppose the question is no less pertinent for having been beaten to death by Hollywood a hundred times. As a theme, it has probably survived because it’s so hard to solve, even after millions of teachers in millions of classes in all their millions of degrees of success or failure. It can be discouraging to think about, but it can be encouraging, too, for almost the same reasons. The fact that very few but extremely diverse teachers succeed in firing their students with literary zeal means that just fitting a rubric won’t do it…so on one hand, you can have every qualification in the world and be a terrible teacher, but on the other, you can be a great teacher with no qualifications whatsoever. Total freedom from pigeonholing and classification.

At least that’s how it works in my mind, which means it probably bears precious little resemblance to reality. What do I know, anyway? All this just makes me think about why I want to be a teacher. You don’t figure any of this out until you actually get up there in front of a pack of assorted people. Until then, it’s anyone’s guess.

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