Today I asked my colleague, Elaine Miskinis, if I could share her writing with the TTT community. Elaine teaches Sophomore English, Junior English, and AP Language and Composition. I am fortunate to pass my freshmen along to her while receiving her juniors in return. She perfectly sums up the struggles of first semester, the hope that comes with second, and the transformative power of literature. ~Jackie
The plan? Spend the hour and a half between the end of the school day and kiddo pick up time entering my students’ midterm grades, doing some lesson planning for “Hamlet” and cleaning and organizing my room in preparation for third quarter.
The reality? A student who is failing with a single digit average came to finish his midterm. He mentioned, in passing, that reading Catcher in the Rye made him realize some things about himself. Any conversation that opens with “The Catcher in the Rye made me realize…” is never going to be a short conversation. It’s just the nature of that novel and the power it holds.
Long story short, he’s experienced some significant trauma and, like Holden, nobody has really been there to help him to process it. He said, “You know how Holden is really smart, but he’s failing because he just can’t get out of his own head and move on from what he’s experienced? I think that’s like me.” Over an hour later we came up with a plan to get him someone to talk. We also scrapped any plans of turning him into a model student this year and replaced them with the goal of helping him so that he, in his words, “Can stop pretending to be happy and actually start to feel it”.
So, now my classroom is a fire hazard of papers and books, my planning for Monday stands at “Wing It” and I have two bags of papers that have come home with me that still need to be logged into my grade book. But, this was one of those days that will likely stand out when I think about why I teach. And, more specifically why I value teaching literature. For every kid who whines and “Spark Notes” and skims, there might be one kid in the back of the room who looks like he’s disengaged and disconnected but who, in reality is so much in his own head at that moment, and possibly even so far in the head of a character that he’s lost in ways we can’t begin to see.
It’s easy to forget the power of novels, especially the ones we teach year after year and it’s easier still to forget the power we hold as teachers, especially when we’re consumed with midterms and grades and planning, and frankly, all of the things that really, in the end don’t amount to a whole lot. Today was an important reminder to me of what it’s really about and why what we do really does matter. I don’t know that we’ll be able to help this kid in any substantial way, although I certainly hope we will, but I do know that he felt comfortable broaching the topic with me this afternoon because he had Holden Caulfield there to lean on. It makes me wonder how often these small, important moments get lost as we focus on assessments and core competencies and all of the minutia of our lives as teachers. Sometimes it just has to be about more than that, and about more than reading check quizzes and essays. Sometimes it has to be about letting our kids hang out with characters for a while to learn that they’re not alone.