I’m teaching again. It’s September, after all, and well — that hole in my head grew shut and I said I’d teach a couple of classes and then I couldn’t think of a gracious way to back out when I finally realized that freshmen comp wasn’t on my thrill list, and even more to the point it’s the only job offer I’ve had, and what if nothing else ever comes along!?!?!? Truth is, I’m a teacher. It’s not really what I do so much as a big part of who I am.
So, I walk into a new classroom, look out upon a tiny sea (class limit set at 24) of fresh, mostly freshmen faces, and realize these things:
1. Writing well still matters. (never mind that stream-of-consciousness thing-y of a sentence up there, proving the contrary exists) I believe it. I want my students to believe it too. And I don’t want them to just believe it, ultimately, but DO it.
2. Students sit in a classroom waiting, enduring an alarming mixture of dread and expectancy. They wonder what good this class will ever do them. They ponder their past successes or disappointments with the medium, and wonder why they have to go through all this nonsense again. After all, most of them are native English speakers, and they’ve been writing and reading in that same language for a while now. What else can they possibly need to know? (Indeed…)
3. I am head over my heels in love with learning. I want that for everyone; I do. I want it most for the students who ever have or ever will walk in my classroom.
4. Reading and Writing are so GOOD. Shakespeare. Blogging. McCourt. “The New Yorker.” Lewis. Walls. Dickens. Quinlan. I mean seriously. SO good. How can my students not fall, just a little bit, themselves?
I have an opportunity start a revolution. No, no, no — not the Arab Spring kind (though that one, too, started with words) — a revolution of thought, inspiration, impact. Just a bit like this, only with less blood spilled on the ground, and more ink spilled on the page:
On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, …
Shakespeare tells the story of England’s fifth Henry, here summoning his men to the battlefield once more. The Bard’s words, eked out on ink-stained parchment, recall a blood-stained French battlefield won for England. Patriotic, inspiring, memorable. I merely call my students to the page where the blood-letting is figurative, and who knows whether or not any of us in that classroom will ever stir minds and hearts so well as Shakespeare!? Still, my charge to them echoes Henry’s: Find your ‘true mettle’; let there be ‘no dishonour’ in your words; prove yourselves ‘worthy’ of your instruction and upbringing; finish the thing! Unleash the ‘lustre and power’ of words, used well. The ‘game’s afoot’ after all.
And so I go, ‘once more, unto the breach, my friends.’ It’s time to teach.