Friday, February 17, 2012

Don't Teach What You Love.

Try to avoid teaching what you love. That's my advice to other high school teachers. Because when you really love something, like a book, or a poem, or a play, to the point that it's a part of who you are, it hurts too badly to have it spit on or criticized.

I learned that my first year teaching, with the book Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I love that book. I first read it in middle school and from that time, I have related to Jane on almost every level of my being. I want to BE her. The book launched my entire interest in Gothic Female literature, which I have read voraciously since that time. I wrote my senior thesis on Gothic Female Literature. And it all started with Jane.

So when I taught it to high school seniors...I was excited to share Jane with them.>.And devastated when they were bored, when they didn't get it, when they didn't care. When they said it was "stupid."

Of course, you can teach things you like. I like Shakespeare. I have taught Romeo and Juliet 13 times now and I like it a lot, I like it more every time I read it. But I don't love it. I don't relate to it on a personal level. So if the kids don't like it...I don't really care.

But last month we read poetry. And I love poetry. I am a poet. I know how hard it is to write. And I know how hard it is to get your poetry published. I have had 4 or 5 pieces published and every time, it's like a miracle. It has literally taken me years to get to this point, and I am still barely at the foot of the mountain. So when we read poetry by writers who are not only published, but who also make money writing poetry, they are like superheroes to me. Nobody makes money writing poetry. Unless you're Robert Frost or Maya Angelou or somebody like that. You have to be INCREDIBLE. I am awe of these people.

And yet again, I have little scrawny idiot students who say, "it's stupid." One particularly lovely darling said, "This poem doesn't even make any sense. I could write this in my sleep."

I had just spent 15 minutes explaining the meaning of the poem and discussing it with the class, so naturally, I couldn't help but chew his face off.

"Oh, really? You could, huh? You could write a poem that is so good that it's not only published the first time, but multiple times, and eventually put into one of the literature books for high school English? I'd like to see you try. You do that, kid, you write a poem that a legitimate literary magazine publishes. Then you tell me that you could do this easily. Because I am a published poet and I know, it's extremely difficult to do."

He seemed alarmed by my outburst.I am not sure how long I stood there sputtering my frustration and rage at him. After he left I punched a filing cabinet and threw my roll book on the floor. Very mature. I have been teaching for 6 years, but I just can't not get upset about stuff like this.

That is why it is best that I don't teach what I love. Let me teach computers or something that I am vaguely interested in, but that I don't really care about. It's probably better for me and the darling idiots.


  1. Oh my! I completely relate. When I graduated with my B.A. in English, I was so excited to teach high school English. But I ended up teaching 5th grade instead and it was a wonderful decision! I quickly realized, after talking with several high school teachers, that teaching what you love only leads to frustration.

  2. I hear you. Unfortunately there are too many teenagers out there who don't take anything very seriously. They grow up to be adults who don't take things very seriously.

    Hang in there :D

  3. What they don't yet realize is that simplicity takes genius. Its like watching a professional dancer, they make it look so easy, like we can all jump around on our toes and leap through the air like birds. The ease of the motion is part of the illusion. Its the same with good writing. Its so well done, so simple, that people assume it must be easy as well. Until they really try it:). Don't worry, give him a few years of falling on his face and see if he still thinks "I could write this in my sleep." There's a song Dave likes that has the line "potential shines so bright when never there." Its one thing to appear talented, its another thing entirely to turn raw talent into something tangible and successful. I don't know that we can really appreciate fine art and created beauty until we have been up against a wall without resources and know what life can be like without it, until we can appreciate the sheer amount of work and determination it takes to create something new and valuable. I never really appreciated quality music until I began singing all the time and spending time with musicians- now I am exceedingly impressed by what I used to take for granted.

  4. wow Sandy I am sure all passionate people feel the same as you . I am glad you will have a chance to write and one day those students might say. " She was my teacher and she taught me to love literature." Keep on loving do not let their ignorance stop you.

  5. I think teaching what we love is the best thing we can do. I sometimes don't realize until much later the affect my passion for a piece of music, art, or literature has had on some one else. I think anyone who teaches middle school or high school deserves a gold medal, but we don't always get to see the affect our love for some thing has on another.