In select scenes, I seem like a good teacher

by Mr. Sheehy

Sometimes I do things as a teacher that make me seem useful. These are the days when I stroll back into my cubicle for a planning period and I think to myself, “Hey, that was fun. I felt like a good teacher there.”

Three occasions recently have made me feel this way, and I am going to take a moment here to savor them, because they don’t happen every period. Teaching is not always like this – these are the peaks.

Scene 1: Sophomore English. A class of 28 students write formal essays to respond to John Knowles’s A Separate Peace.

I had students choosing the most important theme in A Separate Peace and then defending their choices with supporting points and quotes from the text. They had to have an informal outline approved by me, in lieu of a rough draft, where I critiqued their topic sentences, thesis, and choice of quotes. The result was a room full of students digging through a novel, conversing about its content, and bombarding me with questions about literature and writing. I was busy every moment of the period, and I loved it. My ability to help in an environment like that is what made me think, way back in high school, that I should become an English teacher.

Scene 2: Junior English, American Literature. A class of only 12 reads Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil.

In year’s past, students have struggled with this story. They stumble over Hawthorne’s vocabulary and long sentences, and when they read the quizzical ending they think their own poor reading skills are why they don’t get it. I figured I’d read it out loud this year and we’d talk about it as we read and answer questions closer to the point of confusion. That conversation was fun, but especially fun was how wonderful Hawthorne makes me sound when I read him. The beauty and varied cadence of a passage written by Hawthorne is unique in American letters:

The cause of so much amazement may appear sufficiently slight. Mr. Hooper, a gentlemanly person, of about thirty, though still a bachelor, was dressed with due clerical neatness, as if a careful wife had starched his band, and brushed the weekly dust from his Sunday’s garb. There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil. On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things.

One student even remarked that she enjoyed his writing style – the flow and beauty of his sentences. Lovely, I say. Lovely.

Scene 3: Freshman English. 18 students search for books for their research paper topics.

After reminding students about the basics of the computer catalog, the library’s arrangment, and the construction of their research note cards, I set them free to find a resource. They then did what I imagine bees would do when you set them free from a box – they turned an about-face and attacked me. Instead of stingers, however, they led with questions about formatting note cards, desperate road blocks in search terms, books that didn’t seem to be where they’re supposed to be, and topics that seemed too hard. They came at me with full neediness and without hesitancy, and when the ringing explosions of the onslaught died away, I was still standing – with a smile on my face.

I love this job.

Happy Easter. Thanks for reading.

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