23 October 2010


The first year teaching BritLit is ROUGH. Nothing is written "in English" for the first half of the year, and the pop references to Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare are so culturally pervasive that it is hard to convince students that they are actually reading the original references. (If I was really good, I'd use this to teach allusion.) Today I was thinking about one of my colleagues teaching her first year of BritLit and realizing that if she doesn't get through Macbeth by Christmas, she'll never get to  the 20th century by 4th quarter. How do I know this? Because it took me three years to get to the 20th century in BritLit.  I  myself am mired in Canterbury right now and am looking longingly at the unit on Shakespeare, if only to get myself out of the quicksand that Chaucer can be with a class who is resolute in their hatred of all things medieval.
Some years I feel like Victor Frankenstein, trying to invent a way to stave off the pain and anguish all human beings suffer.  Of course, Victor's misunderstanding of human nature was the real problem  in his sad story: we are not human if we don't hurt.  But it's not my job to teach that, is it?
It's all good, though, cause the pressure of the kids saying  "really, Ms. Healey?"  is when the good ideas come. What if I skipped the Prologue next year and just read the Wife of Bath's Tale with them? She's funny and likeable, and she's got a good story. Then my love of all things Arthurian and chivalric would be satisfied for once, and they would still learn about the Middle Ages and start spouting what they already knew from movies. AND they'll remember the name of the Father of English Poetry, and I could probably talk about the Green Man for once.  And we could build a wiki about medieval coolness instead of the Black Death (though I do love a good plague now and then).
 But of course, that still does not solve the 20th century. Last year, we did Literature Circles for short fiction (Conrad, Joyce, Mansfield, Greene, etc). It was successful--but they agreed as a group that no one should ever have to read The Rocking Horse Winner again. I agreed--I had forgotten how odd and creepy it was. I love DH Lawrence, but there has to be a better example. So what to read instead?  Does it have to be him? (I miss teaching Greene's The Tenth Man, which is out of print. Love it, too long anyway) And why I am always researching the same problems over and over again? I'm not the one suffering through BritLit for the first time, remember?
Because I forget my greatest resource--my kids.  I happen to teach some of the students who panned Rocking Horse Winner last year in my senior World Lit classes. Time for extra credit second quarter, people. Research contemporary British short fiction, already judged worthy by history, and find me a new story for the juniors.  Write me an argument for the story you choose. Hey, maybe they could work in Lit circles again to handle this job for me. BWWWAAAHHHH! Dr. Frankenstein finally gets it right.

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