“I marvel at the calm of the Japanese haiku poets who just enjoy the passage of days and live in what they call “Do-Nothing-Huts” and are sad, then gay, then sad, then gay, like sparrows and burros and nervous American writers.”—Jack Kerouac, in a letter to John Clellon Holmes
Hi! I'm going to start teaching high school English in the fall. Can you walk me through a typical teaching day for you? Things you cover, how you manage your class. Thanks!
9:02am, Literature and Composition: Get to class two minutes late. Eat yogurt in your weird way where you layer each spoonful with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkling of granola. Shoot daggers at anyone who looks at you weird for this. Give them something to write about. When they ask if they can eat too, say yes, but remind them that all flavors of beef jerky are unequivocally banned from your classroom. It stinks. Also, tell anyone drinking Red Bull before noon that that is gross and that they have many remaining years to cultivate caffeine addictions: cherish this innocent time.
10:20am, Film as Lit: Show the scene in “Hamlet” where Ethan Hawke wanders around a Blockbuster eating Starbursts and mumbling “to be or not to be….” When someone comments that this is outdated, there are no more video stores, tell them that that is besides the point…this is a thoroughly modern text! See how it translates! Who hasn’t wandered around flourescent aisles, numbly pondering the point of existence? Well, Sheezy got there first, son. Point out that Shakespeare was writing about people having a subconscious before people even knew what a subconscious was. Blank stares. Remind them how Borges wrote about the internet 60 years before it existed, how impressed they were. Now, think about how long 500 years is. “Oooh…” Lightbulbs. E_____, 17: “Is it true Shakespeare smoked pot?”
11:45am, American Lit: Digression/scolding: “You know how much you hate when your parents nag you to get stuff done? So annoying, right? Like, enough already.” Yes. “Well, I hate dealing with your parents even more. I’m 30, I’ve earned the right to handle my own parents as infrequently as it suits me. Meaning: I don’t want to handle yours. Don’t put me in a position where I have to explain that you didn’t do your homework. Got it?” Yes.Important: Never yell. Ever. Keep them guessing. If they are nice, be mean (but not too mean). If they are mean, be nice (but not too nice). It confuses them, keeps them uncertain and most of all, paying attention.
1:28pm, Literature of Sport:C_____, 17 has finished reading Gay Talese’s “Silent Season of the Hero.” He looks up. “This is the best story I have ever read,” he says quietly. This is a kid who was kicked out of two schools. These are the moments that count, the moments you won’t forget.
2:50pm, Philosophy of Lit:D____, 16, authoritatively: “‘King Lear’ sucks. It’s pulp. Entertainment. I think people are into Shakespeare just because it’s ‘Shakespeare.’ You: “Interesting opinion…but you do need to write something on it.” D____: [crosses arms]You: “Would you rather write a critique of how we can read ‘King Lear’ as pulp fiction or would you rather write a persuasive essay on why Shakespeare should never be taught again?” D____: “Oh! Never taught again!” I call this The Illusion of Choice. Tricks them every time.