Smoke. How I love watching it curl into the night air. Gray against the blackness of the dim night. Stars peeking out from behind the somber clouds, their faint light further obscured by the emanating ember of my fingertips, by the plumes I exhale upon vodka-tainted breath.
Ah, if only the kids knew what I was really like outside the classroom.
It has been a spell, certainly, dear reader(s), and I can run through my numerous excuses as to why I haven’t put finger to keyboard in some time. Certainly, my personal journal is stained in all manner of mad scribbles (courtesy of a sexy, new fountain pen), but I find myself lacking – wanting – when it comes time to pen things for my poor, beleaguered blog.
Inspiration; when did she desert me?
Teaching, I suppose, has consumed my day-to-day Life, as I find myself in a constant battle to keep ahead of grading (like the Germans in world wars, I consistently lose) and I oft struggle to present new information in an interesting, and engaging, manner. Wearing a bathrobe to work helps, but woe to the new teacher forced into a dull curriculum that focuses on teaching-for-the-test and not on critical thinking.
To which I respond: fuck that.
Last semester, newly promoted/subjected/exiled to the 10th grade, I found myself with a slew of familiar faces and skill sets, but an even more pressing matter concerning kids who can neither read nor write critically. Most damning, I declare, was their initial inability to think for themselves.
After a summer of traveling, shenanigans, and not a single sober night, I decided to steer my charges in a new direction: an emphasis on the individual and their place in society. Should my bosses e’er decide to visit my classroom, I reckon they might be a bit alarmed by my teaching methods and complete disregard for state-mandated curriculum.
Who the hell throws chairs during a lecture to make a point?
Who the hell encourages the kids to rebel against rules they find unfair or unjust?
Who the hell teaches English by encouraging philosophy? By baying for the blood of society?
Who the hell becomes friends and comrades with their charges?
I am not a great teacher – not by a long shot – but I am certainly a curiosity amidst the hall.
Think back, comrades, to your own English classes of yesteryear and recall the dread of having to read Shakespeare (though he does grow on you in time), of diagramming sentences, of the endless reciting of meaningless vocabulary words you promptly forget in a fortnight. Who in blazes enjoyed English class as a youth? I recall two instances in my high school prime – Freshman and Junior years – where I thoroughly enjoyed the subject, but two years out of many is scarcely convincing. What, then, must I do to make these kids enjoy the subject?
In my experience (which is limited) and my opinion (which is pompous and arrogant), the best way to teach English is to teach other subjects. By that, comrades, I mean the best way to dissect a text or poem is to first disrupt and destroy a song together. To analyze a text and decipher its hidden meanings, the best method is to focus on a current event and dismantle it as the walls of Jericho. To teach vocabulary, one merely must engage in Socratic reasoning (which, naturally, is applied to all aspects of the class). To teach writing, one must entertain dialogos and rhetoric.
To date, my charges have yet to open those pitiful textbooks. They are filled with all manner of required readings (anchor texts) and innumerable excerpts that rob the original, full texts of their charm and luster. Anchor texts are required by state law, but the humor behind the name isn’t lost upon me: anchors prevent you from moving forward. Why on earth would I subject my students to bureaucratic bullshit when there’s a wealth of knowledge and information readily available in discussion and discord?
Ah, chaos. How I thrive on you.
We had spent the entirety of last week dissecting the text of the Allegory of the Cave and engaging in lively banter – more than one student mentioned how my subversive tendencies didn’t sit well with their parents (get out of your cave, kids). “Brava,” I said, “for you cannot live under someone’s thumb – in their cave – forever.” It must be said I wore a bow tie when introducing Plato for one cannot speak on philosophy without a fancy bow tie, of course.
Friday the last, my charges engaged in a rather spirited debate about the merits of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I recall the words of then-CPT Gallagher as he remarked on our own debate years’ past: I have never seen students go for blood – for the throat! – so quickly! His words rang true for I watched as my students engaged in a serious dialogos about the merits of staying in the cave or exiting it completely. And wouldn’t you know it, the little fuckers wanted to do more such activities.
Frankly I’m not certain where I was going with this blog post. Started off with me smoking a cigarette and devolved into some sort of hodgepodge of teaching anecdotes and tomfoolery.
Basically like my teaching methods.
Fuck, I love teaching. I’ve said it time afore, and I’ll continue saying it again: I love my job. Watching those sparks of intelligence blossom into conflagrations of reason and rhetoric, ah, tis what I strive for! The kids haven’t any idea what I’m like outside the classroom (though the rumor mill is humorous to listen to), but they know I love being inside the classroom, helping them grow as individuals. Not as little automatons who can pass a standardized test, but as little philosopher thinkers who can reason and articulate themselves.
That’s all I want for them, really: the ability to think for themselves.
Entertain my hubris for a moment, comrade, because I am e’er a pompous individual. Before semester last came to an end, I assigned a final writing topic for my charges: what did you realize? The following answers motivate me to keep going, to keep rebelling, to keep encouraging, to keep teaching. Yes, this is grossly arrogant and self-indulgent. But we all need motivation from time to time. Read on:
- Looking back on this semester, I realized that math is bullshit and it is all about English. […] You can express things through writing, not through formulas.
- I realized that by letting my mind express its ideas on paper, it can lead to a great story.
- This English class is my favorite class of the year. This class is anything but easy.
- I realized I was not as strong of a writer as I thought I was. […] I know I am better than I was at the beginning of the year.
- I have a future as a lawyer because I am very proficient in arguing against others. […] Let the Dice Gods decide then.
- I ran over a cat [this made me laugh horrendously].
- At first I wanted to change this class, but now I don’t want to because I now understand things better.
- I feel my writing has gotten better since semester started.
- I was told that I can write at a much higher level than my peers, which both kind of surprised me and inspired me to improve my writing even more.
- This is my favorite class and Mr. Bruelhart is my favorite teacher.
- You gave us this stupid essay. You gave us all so much stress. Staying up late. I hate writing essays. And poems.
- This English class is not like my other English classes.
- This is the only class I have actually learned anything from. Thank you.
- I love poetry. THERE. I said it. I love it. It’s like a mini life or movie.
- My English II teacher [me] has very abnormal interests. He actually likes to learn on his spare time and plays D&D. He is nothing as I thought he was supposed to be.
- Essays are the devil. The only other thing worse than an essay is a poem. They are so boring. There is no point to them.
- Damn you Bruelhart for giving us Shakespeare next year.
- You spit wisdom.
- He isn’t an English teacher – he’s a Life lessons teacher.
- I realized one of my teachers is crazy and likes attention. He’s a Ravenclaw so that makes sense.
Yes, teaching keeps me busy and perpetually sidelined for my more adventurous pursuits (at least during the school year), but it is refreshing to know the rapport with my charges isn’t fabricated. From the mouth of babes, it is said, and I find it comforting to know that my charges are learning and engaging the world about them.
Fuck me, knowledge – sharing that knowledge – is genuine.
For my charges reading this (which you really shouldn’t for my preponderance for saying fuck), you keep me going. Thanks, goombas.