Here is an interesting thing: I got into teaching because I love books. I love to read, love to talk about what I read, love to pick apart sentences and admire their vivisected beauty. I wasn't too sure, though, about whether I'd like kids. I had watched my fair share of movies and TV shows featuring a high school setting, and I was quite uncertain about my ability to quell a paper-throwing riot or stand firm when confronted by an angry young man 6 or more inches taller than me. And it wasn't just the threat of violence that concerned me. Even more, I was worried about the day to day--about how I would get along with them. What if they didn't like me? What if I was too stiff, too formal?
My nerves were a mess the week before I started teaching. On the first day of school, my legs were shaking so badly I had to lean against the desk, taking deep, calming breaths. And then I began. I began talking about who I am and what I had planned for the class. And that class of 26 sophomores lifted their faces to me like flowers. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging--but they absorbed my words like sunlight. They smiled and laughed and let me teach them.
And this is what I learned: I have stayed in teaching because I love my students.
But in seven years, something else has changed. I have discovered that while I still love to devour books, I am no longer so convinced that the way we teach English is the best way to kindle that hunger in our students.
There are so many other ways teens today can occupy themselves. Reading a book seems, by comparison, boring--something only nerds would do. To make matters worse, the classics we read in high school classrooms are often inaccessible, unexciting, and outdated. Should every high school graduate have read Twain, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Milton? Maybe not. Isn't it more important to show students that reading is not merely for bored, boring nerds?
This is my proposal: to create a classroom atmosphere where books are treasures and reading is rewarding. First thing, I'd get rid of the desks and put in a large plush carpet and comfortable seats--beanbag chairs, a recliner or two, a sofa. I would need lots of bookshelves and more books too. Picture books, fiction and nonfiction--things that are relevant and interesting. I think fluorescent lights are hideous, so we would need lamps. And then, a class set of notebook computers with video cameras for streaming to other similar classrooms (if there are any).
Sometimes we would all read the same thing. Sometimes the students would form book clubs and read together. Sometimes we would all read individually. My role would be to direct and focus discussion and to suggest new topics or books.
After reading, we would write. Sometimes, we'd write about the books, sometimes about life, some fiction, some poetry, some nonfiction. And we'd talk about ways to publish our writings, on the web or in print.
Wouldn't that be better?