Musings, Nits, and Praises: Dispatches from a Teachers' Conference: Day Two

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher

Dispatches from a Teachers' Conference: Day Two

Cramped with Lumbar-torturing desks and three pianos and cold enough to conjure thoughts of "To Build a Fire," our yellowed cinder block meeting room isn't what educational theorists would dub a welcoming learning environment. Adding fatigue and an increasingly long-winded instructor to the mix, I had myself a long day. Long, but not unproductive (I got some solid ideas for teaching synthesis essays) and not without its humor.

In my 12th grade English class, my teacher would occasionally play us recordings of poets reading some of their most famous works. Some, like W. B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas, were mesmerizing. But others were so odd or deadpan they all but sapped the life from their poems. E. E. Cummings sounded like a swaying drunk at times. T.S. Eliot had all the life of a British automated customer service prompt, and Elizabeth Bishop could've passed for a bored waitress reciting the day's specials. I still find it sort of strange how such brilliant poets couldn't do justice to their own work. But then again, it's not like gifted playwrights are necessarily good actors.

Um, Jason, what about the conference? Well, I've always believed an English teacher needs to have the ability to bring a work to life when you read it aloud. I don't mean being over-the-top, just conveying the tone and nuances of the text. (If you lack inflection or any sense of natural rhythm, don't blame the students when they've got their heads on their desks, drooling all over the work of your favorite writer.) During today's session we read several excerpts from noted essays, as well as student writing, aloud. Let's just say I'm not convinced everyone in there shared my conviction.

Most who read were excellent, but a few only made our time in the would-be meat locker seem that much longer. The worst, a lady who read through end marks and stumbled over several words per line, reminded me of the time I inadvertently assigned one of my worst readers the part of Mercutio--I'm not sure he's finished the Queen Mab soliloquy yet. When somebody is all-out butchering a passage, though, there's always the prospect of unintentional humor.

She didn't disappoint.

In the essay she was reading, the student cited an author who described his handwriting as "exotic, anonymous scrawl." Before she came to this phrase, she'd found her footing for a sentence or two. But no sooner did it seem she had finally stopped careening through the text than she said, "erotic, anonymous scrawl." You know, it can't be often a writer goes from self-publishing on bathroom stalls to being included on AP tests.

2 Responses to “Dispatches from a Teachers' Conference: Day Two”

  1. # Blogger drunyon

    "Well, I've always believed one key to being a good English teacher is having the ability to bring a work to life when you read it aloud."

    And now I know what inspired your GUY DE MAUPASSANT catchphrase!

    Sometimes I wish more of my BCS classmates went here to A&M with me. If they had, I'd drop that reference in everyday conversation.

    "So, David, what are you doing today?"
    "Oh, I dunno.. probably just reading some GUY DE MAUPASSANT!"  

  2. # Blogger Jason

    Haha! I get a kick out of you remembering that.

    I don't think English teachers necessarily need to use a ridiculous accent. That's just something goofy I like to do. But reading aloud well is essential, I think. Not only do I want to keep kids' attention, I want them to read aloud well, too, which means I have to model what it is so they can practice it.  

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