My third period class today informed me they were terrified the first time they walked into my classroom. They were convinced I was going to be the meanest teacher alive–although, they were unable to articulate exactly why that was. Seriously? How am I not the least intimidating person you’ve ever met?
Today was also, however, one of those days which keep a teacher teaching, instead of… I don’t know–slamming her head repeatedly into a wall.
My juniors were reading “The Birthmark”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I started class with this set of questions:
- What is your greatest weakness? And,
- Would you be willing to give it up for the sake of true love?
In the story, Georgiana is all-too willing to change, and her husband, Aylmer, kills her in the process of “perfecting” her.
There were many death threats made against Aylmer after we closed the book.
But the question which arose next was, do we, in demanding others or even ourselves to change, inadvertently destroy people in the process? And if so, what might we do instead? How can we see past individual characteristics which drive us crazy, to the whole, valuable–if somewhat flawed–person?
That story resounded with these 16 and 17 year old kids like nothing I’ve ever seen. Students who have never spoken up in class before were waving their hands, anxious to relate their own connections to this tale. They spoke of friends, parents, mental health counselors, physicians and countless scenarios I’d never have made the connection to.
They rose their hands timidly at first: “I don’t know if this has anything to do with it, but my aunt….” And, yes! it would have everything to do with it, in ways I never could have predicted. And then, emboldened by the connections that other students made to their own tale, they would raise their hands again. And again. And again.
“Some days it’s a good day to die, and some days, it’s a good day to [read American Lit. with teenagers.]” (Smoke Signals, 1998.)