If I had a million dollars, I'd build you a school.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Guest Post: Five Books I've Loved Teaching

The Five Books theme continues to generate a lot of dialogue. I'm happy today to have the second ever guest post to this blog. Today's guest poster is not only an experienced English teacher, but is also the proud mom of the author of the first guest post ever on this blog.

In September 2008, I will begin my 39th year in education. I’ve been teaching English grades 6 – 12 all this time, and I’m happy to respond to Jeff’s blog.

Five texts I’ve loved teaching:

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
High schoolers of all ethnicities presented with black lit., often appreciate, but don’t always “relate.” Ralph Ellison’s genius was that his prose style allows students to get inside the protagonist, who begins as a student himself and is desperate to get ahead. He’s thwarted left, right and center, ending, up living in a basement with a recording of “Am I Blue” (you can get a cd of it and play in class), busily screwing hundreds of light bulbs on the floor, ceiling and walls to rip off the electric company. I have had many students who have been shaken by this novel, some of them learning for the first time about black on black betrayal. Discussion leads to lessons in social history.

Julius Caesar William Shakespeare
I love to guide my seventh graders’ first reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Seventh graders – who knows more about stabbing one another in the back than seventh graders during the turning point in middle school where they break into the cruelest of mobs/gangs/packs, feeding on the souls of kids who were their buddies in elementary school with.
Antony’s principles are not as familiar to many of the kids. Close reading draws out the merits of keeping faith and loyality, and we get into talks about ethics, “mean girls” and bullies.

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky
By the tenth grade, most students are excited about having their philosophical discussions. Some of them posture and pose, while others grapple with valid pros and cons and articulating difficult concepts. Crime and Punishmentis perfect for giving students meat to chew, debate and write about.

Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller
Students learn the painful lesson that, as the famous line from the play goes, attention must be paid. Dramatic tragic hero since the advent of the common man in the U.S.A., Willy Lowman, is a failure in the eyes of almost everyone in the play, and certainly in those wallowing in our neo-gilded age. Students have trouble seeing the nobility in Willy, seeing why his wife knows that attention must be paid even to those who hit the sidewalk and slug it out in the work-a-day world everyday, believing in a personal code of responsibility, dedication and old fashioned ethics that need to be resurrected.

Waiting for Godot -Jean Paul Sartre
Why go on when you can’t? There is no help. There is no reason. Teenagers can connect with this concept, but they can’t so readily relate to Didi and GoGo’s “I can’t go on. I can’t go on. Let’s go on.” Existential as it’s themes are, Waiting for Godot demonstrates that we are not alone, but, in fact we are. Recognize it and, with the knowledge, find a way to deal.

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