I’ve discovered anew (this is embarrassing) my own vanity. Since starting this blog, I treat it a bit like a dreadful accident — something I don’t want to see, and something I can’t tear my eyes from. I check my ‘stats’ like a maniac. Is anyone following? Did anyone comment? In a twist on Sally Field’s proclamation, I keep asking, do ‘you like me’? do ‘you really, really like me’? Shameful. And so, its poetically fitting that, on this day linked irrevocably to black cats, rickety ladders, broken mirrors and hockey-masked killers, I haven’t gotten a single read.
Glancing at the calendar reminded me that it’s a ‘Friday, the 13th’ — I’m generally not overly superstitious, though I adamantly refuse to follow any sort of pickup or small utility truck that has ladders precariously secured (ha! that’s a laugh!) while driving at maniacal speeds on the interstate. Friday, July 13. While for some this a day frought with (mostly imaginary) threats, the day merely reminds me that school will be starting up again in just a few short weeks. I am not ready. A colleague loaded up a duffle bag full of books the other day, toting them along on a family trip. I’m at home, with piles of books and a useful webbernets constantly at hand, and deny my responsibilities to prepare. Perhaps there IS a danger lurking.
On August 20th, I will begin my eighteenth year of teaching. By any accounting, I’ve been in the classroom for a while now. Easy then, to flip on the ol’ autopilot, and just stay in the rather comfortable rut of familiar ‘plans, strategies, and methods’ that I’ve used in the past. I often imagine that many who aren’t part of my profession think that that’s pretty much all we do. Pull out the lesson plan book from the previous year, and copy those words into this year’s fresh version. (I am dismayed to report that this is exactly what my supervising teacher did every week of the semester when I did my student teaching, back in the nearly dark ages.) But every year my students change. Every year the times change (if ever so slightly). And every year, (amazing, that grace) I change. Learning keeps happening — sometimes in spite of my best efforts to just be a slug.
Admittedly, I haven’t read quite as much as I do in some summertimes. But I have read a couple of fantastic novels — Updike’s Gertrude & Claudius (I am sincere in my Hamlet addiction, and this novel offers a rather delightful prequel to the tragedy), Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, and a couple of others. Presently, I’m re-reading for who-knows-how-manyeth time, Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (oh, how I love that Lion!), Newkirk’s The Art of Slow Reading, Jago’s With Rigor for All, and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Here’s why:
Reading inspires me. I need to learn — and blessedly, (‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and all that) great teachers, thinkers, imaginers, writers have gone before me, leaving their mark on the future. C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity that “the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” The same holds true for teachers. Every year, a new crop of learners, thinkers — you know, boys and girls: the NEXT generation — enters my classroom. They face challenges — familial, social, relational, volitional, academic, emotional — and it’s my responsibility and privilege to TEACH them — how to read, how to write, how to think, how to express themselves, how to discern the difference between the Truth and a lie — AAAAHHHH!!!!! — teaching is hard work. Reading and Writing are a part of what I do. Every day. I want my students to discover the power in good words, used well. (Dickens and Shakespeare and Stoppard and Zusak and Wharton and Kingsolver and Marlowe and Lewis and…) And even more, to use their own words to shape culture. (that’s what good writers are all the time doing) So I read. Teacherly (okay, scholarly) writing prevents my inevitable swerve back into the rut of ‘what I did last year.’ Poets and novelists take me out of my present day (unrelentingly hot & dry) to fresh thoughts, bold ideas, intriguing story. And I write. So that I might be able to teach. Maybe just a bit better than last year.
It’s Friday, the 13th. If any danger lurks, it’s not behind a hockey mask. It’s in the rut of complacency. Whether or not a single reader ponders these words (of course I’ll check!), I have some reading of my own to do. The kids will be coming soon. Lucky for me, I threw out my old lesson plan book. I think it was shortly after the last Friday, 13th.