Literary musings, and news you can use, with Amye Archer
Three Things I Want My Students to Know: An English Teacher’s Wish List.
Every Sunday night you will find me in the same place: in front of my computer preparing a week’s worth of lessons. I have no office, no private space tucked away in the English department at a local college. I have my desk in my home with my dogs resting at my feet. I have Sunday nights, and Wednesday mornings and sometimes Thursday afternoons to prepare and grade and reconcile. I am an adjunct instructor.
adjunct: an instructor who has no home, a nomad of academia who wanders from classroom to classroom longing for a permanent place to rest his/her travel coffee mug.
This particular Sunday, as I was preparing for my literature and creative writing classes, I had one of those ‘teaching’ moments where I began to wonder what I really wanted to impart to these students. If I could ensure that they leave my classes in May having only learned a few things, what would those few things be? Then I realized, there are three. If my students can say they learned all or any of these three things, I’d feel an educational fulfillment in my little teacherly heart.
1. The Canon of English Literature is there for a reason. Yes, you must read Hamlet, The Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird. Why? Because classic literature is like an explosion, projecting shards and shrapnel of influence hundreds of years into the future. Without that boom, we may never have met some of the greatest writers of our time. You know that whole Twilight thing? The girl and boy who are madly in love but cannot be together because of outside forces? It’s been done before.
2. You will not always be 19 or 20 or 21. I recently wrote a love letter to The Great Gatsby for the Lit Pub, a wonderful website that asks writers to revisit their old loves of literature, where I admitted that the first time I had read The Great Gatsby I was too young to appreciate it. I was in my early twenties, young, had the world by the … Gatsbys, and didn’t care about things like class warfare and corruption. Now, at age 34, those things are of grave concern to me. Reading Gatsby now is like turning on a light, illuminating what was always darkness. I recommend to many of my students that they reread some of the novels they were “forced” to read in high school. Wait five years, I tell them, and your whole perspective will change.
3. Literature will help you discover who you are. Maybe I am a book nerd, but everything I ever learned about myself I learned from reading. When I was young and I read and reread the Little House on the Prairie books, I did so because a part of me related to that mischievous tomboy in Laura Ingalls. (Although I never had to kill my own dinner or carry my bath water in buckets for over a mile). As a young adult, I learned about ignorance and prejudice from To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned about freedom from Hester Prynne, culture from Langston Hughes, unaffected scorn from Holden Caulfield.
These characters and authors instilled in me an idea about the outside world, a place that’s bigger than me. I haven’t traveled much in my life, but thanks to books, I have some idea of what the world is and what it looks like.
Every teacher wishes something different for their students, and sometimes those students “get it” and sometimes they don’t. I hope that I have made my teachers proud, those teachers who shaped my appetite for the written word and showed me that literature was something greater than myself, something greater than all of us. Because I was fortunate to have good English teachers in my lifetime, I have come to see literature for what it really is: a living, organic record of the human experience.
Amye Barrese Archer is a writer and teacher living in Scranton. You can read more about her at www.amyearcher.com.