even in the midst of bureaucratic bullshit, and long hours of marking essays, and ridiculous-though-endearing things children do (please stop ripping the flexible plastic off of your 3-ring binder in the middle of class — with your TEETH), i just really love teaching.
yesterday was a great day. my students made me laugh, i made them laugh, we wrote some great reflections, and to top it all off, they brought me homemade cupcakes.
one of my favorite novels to teach is the outsiders by s. e. hinton. in the states, my students immediately related to the greasers and eventually grew in empathy for the socs; they realized that things really were rough all over, that socio-economic advantages did not mean someone’s life was perfect. its accessibility makes it a student favorite too.
(of course, they learned about the literary aspects of the novel too: themes, mood, foreshadowing, motifs, yada yada yada.)
i’ll admit that i had preconceived expectations of how my students in egypt would react to this book. although i was confident they would all love it, i also assumed that because of their own socio-economic situations, they would not necessarily understand the greasers.
in the first chapter or two, that was sorta true. they asked me a million questions — “how do they live like that? why do they live like that? they are only teenagers; it’s not okay for them to act like that!” some of it was tinged with judgement, but most of it was expressed with incredulity. what’s portrayed in the book is so different from their own lives on so many levels. they simply didn’t recognize it.
by the time we were 2/3 done, one of the girls raised her hand at the start of class. they had been assigned a particularly exciting chapter as homework the night before.
“miss, all of us love the greasers, and we feel like we are part of their group. so because [spoiler alert!] happened to the boys, we are all SO SAD. and i think it’s because the narrator is a greaser. we feel like we are inside his head, and we can relate to him. maybe if the author had used a soc as a narrator, it would be different, but we all feel like we’re greasers too.” outbursts of assent from the other girls followed.
my boys had a similar reaction. they all loved the greasers, and they all could relate to these characters.
this is why i love my job. this is the power of teaching literature.
yes, my students are learning about character development, and motifs, and narrator point of view, and other fascinating literary aspects.
but they are also learning about stereotypes and analyzing the danger of said stereotypes, how they do not leave room for individual identity. and about character motivation, and how cultural expectations can influence the choices characters (and by extension people) make.
literature creates a space for readers to insert themselves into the story. my kids might not recognize the poor side of town in 1960s oklahoma, but they recognize misunderstandings, identity issues, loss and grief. i love this part of my job the most. (the homemade cupcakes are a close second.)
i also love my kids’ varied reactions to the book:
one girl is so obsessed with the character of johnny that the actor who portrayed him in the ’80s movie is now the background picture on her cell phone. ralph macchio is making a comeback amongst grade 8 egyptian girls.
another girl cried her eyes out for 30 minutes after the death of a character. in the midst of her full-body sobs, she bawled, “death is not a joke!”
a reluctant reader, after we finished the penultimate chapter, yelled out, “no! there’s only one chapter left! i refuse to read it! this book can’t be over!” as soon as we read the last page, he turned back to the first one and started over. no joke.
seriously. i am so lucky to do what i love. now i need to return to the report cards i’ve been working on all afternoon.