Saturday, April 13, 2013
L is for LANGUAGE Arts—Sometimes I Miss the Classroom
For thirty-two years, I got up every day and got dressed to go to either Pascagoula High School (1964–66) or Live Oak School (1966–67) or Woodham High School 1968–96) to teach English. I’m a real roots person: almost twenty-eight of those years were at Woodham, my true home away from home.
I loved teaching and considered it a real calling. In other words, I always thought I was doing just what God intended me to do: educate young people in the language arts, always having in mind making them lifelong readers and writers. Leading teenagers in this direction wasn’t always easy, I must admit; however, it was what I was meant to do.
For most of my thirty-two years, I taught twelfth-grade English, British Literature. You can believe that I had to do lots of “songs and dances” to get those kids to enjoy, no tolerate, the literature of Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton. We managed to get through, many times quite well, and some of my students have even told me (via Facebook) about teaching their children the classics as a result of seeds planted when they were in high school. I hope so, anyway.
If we did a survey of language arts teachers and asked why they became teachers, I imagine most of them would say because they loved to read and wanted to teach literature. Not me! I loved literature, but really grammar was my first love in the discipline. I know it sounds crazy, but I took great delight in watching those cartoon light bulbs come on in a student’s head when he or she finally understood a grammatical concept in the language. I won’t try to convince you that I saw those light bulbs every day, but when I did see them, “my heart leapt up” . . . to quote William Wordsworth.
I have about 150 former students as friends on Facebook, and they still ask me questions about grammar. For some reason, they think that I can answer any query that they have. If the answer doesn’t come to me immediately, I do a little research before writing back. To prove how much I enjoyed teaching grammar, I have an anecdote from many, many years back. One evening at Open House, two parents finally worked their way up to me. After they introduced themselves, they said, “We just had to come tonight to meet the lady who gets so excited over gerunds!” The three of us had a good laugh.
Now it’s time for true confessions. I didn’t enjoy teaching composition until seven years before I retired. I’m not a creative person, so I never could think of fun, yet educational, ways to teach writing. All I knew to do was teach the paragraph (essays in miniature), the five-paragraph essay. Then one summer, three teachers from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, came to Pensacola to lead us in a writing workshop that was very similar to the Bay Area Writing Project in California, only on a much smaller scale. At the end of two weeks, I loved writing and could hardly wait for school to start so that I could share with my students what I had learned. It was at that time that I became convinced that teachers who instruct their students in composition must also be writers themselves. They needed to share their “art” (writing IS an art, you know) with their pupils. I had great fun letting my seniors critique my writing, and they loved doing that after they realized that I wasn’t going to be offended by their comments. Granted, a teacher must have thick skin to do this, but I found the exercise beneficial for both my students and for me. Toward the end of my teaching career, I found several really good writing projects that made collectibles for my students and very interesting reading for me. In fact, my only really original writing assignment came to me during this time. It was what I called The Alphabet Journal, exactly like the project that we’re doing in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. Did someone get wind of my project?
I loved teaching, period. I always thought that my discipline, language arts, was the best because I was privileged to know my students so well since they shared their innermost selves through their writing. Sometimes I probably got to know them too well. They were able to get to know me, too, and because they knew how much I cared for them . . . yes, even loved them . . . they still feel comfortable with me today and share their vocations and their families with me through Facebook.
Let me share one little tidbit with you before I close. It will prove that they know me well. Last night, I had what I call a Sleepless in Cerrillos (the village where I live) night. I awakened at 1:30 with a nagging feeling. I needed to write a letter for a committee that I’m on. So, up I got and wrote the letter. Still wasn’t sleepy, so I did what most of us do if we like to keep up with people—I checked Facebook for messages. I had three. The first one that I saw was from a former student. He was in my class in 1993. That’s a long time ago, isn’t it? He wrote to tell me that he had gone to hear a speech by a former United States poet laureate. Right in the middle of the speech, he told me, he thought, “Mrs. Young would have given me extra credit for doing this!” And he was right. I’d have given him a great big chunk of extra credit. He knew me well . . . and he remembered me after twenty years. Amazing and heart warming. Oh, my how I loved being responsible for those kids, and even now sometimes I miss both the classroom and my students . . . always I miss the students.