Today is Sunday, August 20, 2017

A lifetime of languishing in literature and language

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By ANNE DONNELL

Why would any person want to become an English teacher? In college or high school or middle school? Did you ever enjoy it? 

-High School Student Thinking About Future Career There could be as many reasons as there are English teachers, but let’s skip this for now and enjoy some very tied-in-to-today’s-question ONLINE DEPARTMENT.

“Why Teachers Need Valium” (Thanks, M.H., a retired teacher, and D. T.) Questions with student answers.  (Every teachers lounge in the country has rung with laughter over such as these, laughter with a definite hysteric edge. The extreme iteral mindedness of teenage students produced many of these answers when the writer didn’t know the answer, some tongue in cheek, some not. These students are also good with portable roadside signs.) • What is a nitrate? Much cheaper than a day rate • What did Mahatma Gandhi and Genghis Khan have in common? Unusual names • Name one of the early Romans’ greatest achievements. Learning to speak Latin • Name one measure which can be put into place to avoid river flooding in times of extensive rainfall (e.g. in Mississippi). Flooding in areas such as the Mississippi may be avoided by placing a number of big dames into the river. • Name six animals which live specifically in the Arctic.  Two polar bears three [marked out] four seals • Assess Fashion House’s choice to locate its factory near Birmingham.  Is Birmingham the right location for this type of business? No. People from Birmingham aren’t very fashionable. • How does Romeo’s character develop during the play?  It doesn’t, it’s just self, self, self, all the way through. • Name the wife of Orpheus, whom he attempted to save from the underworld. Mrs. Orpheus • Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed? At the bottom • What happens to a boy during puberty?  He says goodbye to his childhood and enters adultery. • State three drawbacks of hedgerow removal. 1. All the cows will escape.  2. The cars drive into the fields.  3. There is nowhere to hide. • What is the meaning of the word “varicose”? Close by • What is the highest frequency noise a human can register? Mariah Carey • What is a fibula? A little lie • Explain the phrase “free press.” When your mother irons your clothes. • Joanna works in an office.  Her computer is a stand-alone system.  What is a stand-alone computer system?  It doesn’t come with a chair. • Steve is driving his car.  He is traveling at 60 feet/second, and the speed limit is 40 mph.  Is Steve speeding? He could find out by checking his speedometer. • Give a reason people would want to live near power lines.  You get your electricity faster. • What is a vibration? There are good vibrations and bad vibrations.  Good vibrations were discovered in the 1960’s. • Where was Hadrian’s Wall built? Around Hadrian’s back yard • The ethnic group known as Malays come from what country? Malaria

So, why become an English teacher, or a teacher of anything? Choosing this vocation should mean you love to learn, to explore areas of interest thoroughly. Why? You’ll need to explain matters in many ways to open all sorts of minds. The subjects you teach should be subjects you find valuable, stimulating, and exciting. For some of us that was English, or history, or math, or science, or keyboard, or business, or art, or music, or physical education, or sociology, or drama, or psychology, or agriculture. And there are more. 

You’ll need a sense of humor, encased in concrete, and a sense of honor, encased in concrete.

Teaching isn’t all mind and mind manipulation; you have to enjoy the company of the age group you’re teaching. You need to feel an appreciation of your students and an affection for them as well. Don’t expect that every day. 

You must be convinced that teaching is more than worthwhile; it’s an honorable profession, part of a process essential to civilization. You’ll find people who respect you, but, sadly, that respect often goes unexpressed. You’ll have to be willing to function without large helpings of ego food. You’ll generally be working with likeminded people, quite a bonus. 

Now why would anyone choose English to teach? First it probably “came easy” for him or her going through school. From diagramming to discourse, literature to lampoons, the grouping of words in sentences and paragraphs, in verses, in stanzas, being read, being spoken, being written – all this seemed and still seems a world of wonder, endless possibilities, happy exploring for the intrepid. Or for those who long to improve their speaking, their writing, their reading, to press forward in learning. Who was Shakespeare anyway?   

I taught English briefly at the college level, longer at the (then) junior high level, longest at the high school level. I taught all four years of high school English, discovering my preference to be tenth grade. I loved the age (fifteen, sixteen) and the material: both grammar and literature, writing, speaking, listening, reading. It made long hours, satisfying, challenging, often hair-pulling work. Some days could only be described as dreadful, followed by a faculty meeting and working on a prom float. Other days soared.

I am happily reminded of that when I encounter former students on Facebook, in a restaurant, shopping, or at church. And they speak to me! I love meeting spouses, children, getting updates. A great moment was in a local restaurant; when a former student, now waiter, recited, without error, his “memory work” – Mark Anthony’s funeral oration, famously beginning, “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” 

I made many mistakes, loved student pranks (there’s one involving dental floss that’s still discussed), hated grading papers and fixing bulletin boards, but I made a great choice for a career. If you’ve the heart for it, make the same choice.

BW (Bigtime Word) cerebrate – to use the mind, to think. Don’t rush into this; it could be painful.

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