Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Difference A Book Makes

Friday as I begin to get those jitters and nerves running through me, I sat down with the textbooks and novels I'll be teaching. It's an overwhelming amount, but I have come to realize that if you jump in little piece by little piece it becomes manageable.

The first novel I'll be teaching is Night. I have never read this--and yes, I know this is a travesty. I figured, I'll start with the first chapter, take some notes, jot down some lesson ideas, then move to the first reading in the next class and piece by piece start this daunting task. As I opened the book, I started with the prologue instead of the first chapter.

As I read, my excitement that had been dimmed by intimidation began to sparkle again. Here are the notes I took on Night's prologue:

-"Why we write"
-Language as a barrier
-known vs. understood
-written vs. edited (connect to writing)
-"Books no longer have the power they once did."
-What is "collective memory"?

Sometimes, I get so bogged down in the "teaching" of things, that I forget what drew me to this career. I've been coached to say that I want to be a teacher to help students learn and grow. And, I do. But I want my students to learn and grow in the realm of the English language. I want them to read literature--whether old or new--and learn things about life and expression. I want them to be armored with the skills to express themselves, defend their beliefs, and for God's sake HAVE some beliefs. I want them to have a collective memory of the literature that shapes the world. I want to bring some of that power back to books, and I want my students to see that power.

Just this one little prologue reminded me of that, because Wiesel discusses all of those things in his prologue: believing in something; writing as communication and even somewhat as therapy, as testimony, as tribute, as truth; he discusses the writing process and the decision of what to keep and what to toss by the wayside. And in the end, he accesses the very heart of why books matter and need to continue to matter.

Sometimes when bogged down in teaching mode, I forget how much literature means to me, how much it's shaped me, how much I love it. I don't expect all of my students to love it in the way I do, but I truly believe that words are powerful--even in today's society. I want my students to walk away from my classroom and see that truth.

And that, that is what gets me excited about this year all over again.

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