Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bringing Lit to Life

For Monday, December 5, 2011

I am not at all surprised that my daughter is pursuing a double major in theater and psychology. It appears the apple has not fallen far from the tree. It is true that I changed my own college major from theater to communication to English and earned my Master’s Degree in education, but my interest in teaching English at the high school level has always been founded in my love and study of people. Bringing texts to life with dramatic readings and having students stop and attempt to psycho-analyze literary characters’ words and actions has always been my teaching style. Yes, I am that crazy English teacher who acts as though the characters and the situations in books are REAL.

Teaching an array of brand new courses, I have enjoyed selecting new texts and delving into those previously taught in a whole new way. After richly discussing Hamlet, my Horrific Tales class is now studying selected “Monster texts”, reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They are looking also at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Birthmark”. I’ve introduced them to Sigmund Freud’s ideas on identity and the id, ego, and superego, and last night they went home to read Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents”. Tomorrow we’ll discuss its ideas on destructive behavior and how individuals and society deal with destructive impulses. We’ll also examine some artwork from Nineteenth century Romantic artists such as Henry Fuseli, Francisco Goya, and Theodore Gericault and examine their choice of subjects and use of fantasy, imagination, dreams, nightmares, the infernal, and the macabre. All explored what happens when the human mind goes into the darker side of consciousness.

It saddens me when people tell me they do not read. I think of how limited my own repetoire would be if I had never been exposed to the classic texts I have read over the years. In truth, I have become more varied in my reading since becoming a teacher. I was never given a list of the classics to read when I was in high school. It wasn’t until college and later in my student teaching that I became familiar with the texts I am sharing now. I tell my students this. I emphasize how important it is to read for enjoyment but that exposing ourselves to different books and more challenging texts is what widens our scope, our perspective.

In my career I introduce texts of varying subjects and themes to groups of teenagers. I share with students my fascination with each piece of literature I teach. Students may sometimes balk at the language of difficult texts but by the unit’s end, all seem to understand why I selected the books I did. They see it’s not all about the writing, but rather about the ways in which various texts offer a way of examining ourselves and our society, the way they give us an opportunity to reflect on how we live our lives, how we conduct ourselves, how we interact with other human beings. Some are stories of great warning. Others present an ideal way to be. All are building blocks to being able to make sense of our own identities and our place in this world.

The day’s discussion of Freud and his ideas had a group of teens captivated. As the information I had on his work began to infiltrate their own minds, I started fielding questions from my students as if I was Freud himself. The hour passed quickly and discussions lingered into my next period study hall as students began sharing their own insight on the human mind, identity, and our attempts to balance human impulses.

I may not have majored in theater or psychology and I admit, I am certainly no expert in either field, (the idea of knowing enough to be dangerous suddenly comes to my mind...), however I will say, I think I am a pretty crafty teacher of teenagers. I’ve got them hooked. And I cannot wait for tomorrow’s discussions!

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