The Reflective Teacher commented on the blog after my entry the other day about his post… and s/he said:

Thanks for the link, and thanks even more for the “really interesting to read” comment. 🙂

I’d also like to know what makes the teaching of English more vibrant, vital, and relevant. It’s the missing link, I think…making the lessons make sense, be fun and playful, and be necessary (and clearly useful) every day. Students complain that my class is none of these things, and I’d like to be able to turn that around.

Here’s my response:

For me… it was always about making it relevant to their / our lives. And for me, that’s why we read. I don’t read Hamlet (for example) because I’m really dying to know about what some writer thought about some prince 400 years ago… Hamlet is a fantastic text because it still lives and breathes and tells us something about our lives today.

So when I was doing lit discussion (which was a lot) I always (or usually) started them off with a journal entry that took the theme of the reading and took it to the lives we live… so to continue the lousy Hamlet analogy… when we read “To be or not to be…” I asked, “Have you ever had a moment where you were so scared by the circumstances in your life that running away or even dying (the ultimate running away) felt like an option? How did that feel? If not, how do you think that would feel?”

(Now… that’s a powerful, powerful question, and you better be able to handle it and actually, you may want to talk to your dept. chair before you tackle that one, but hey, we’ll continue just for the sake of argument…)

But kids respond… because it’s a powerfully HUMAN way to feel… and we spent time talking about it… and then we read the speech with the lens of our own lives as the backdrop (and the play too) and now there’s a reason to look at iambic pentameter and the politics of Denmark and all the other English-geek stuff that we love because looking at all those things have something to tell us about the way we live our lives today, because after all, if Shakespeare was writing about that feeling… and some 400 year old character of a prince in a play written in a language that only English teachers seem to understand… well, maybe I’m not so strange for feeling that way too. And maybe Hamlet is worth reading because he’s a little like me. Or maybe Claudius is… or maybe Ophelia is, only I don’t want to end up like ANY of them, so maybe now we can talk about how not to end up like any of them.

And man… when that discussion happens, you’ve got them.

I’m jealous of you in a lot of ways. I made the decision to leave the classroom for the chance to make a bigger difference as the principal, but even writing this email made me remember how much I just loved the moments when it was my kids and me and some book that I hoped we could dissect to find some new meaning for each other in our lives.

Enjoy every moment in the classroom — it’s sacred time.