The Daily Post’s writing prompt “Trick Questions” posed a situation in which a Pulitzer-winning reporter is writing an in-depth piece — about me. We all know that the interviewee does not control the interview, and we’ve seen some uncomfortable interviews. The prompt asked me to consider what three questions I really hope I am not asked. Although I’ve had a little fun writing this, I do have a serious point if you’ll bear with me to the end.
I first just daydreamed about being famous enough to be interviewed by a Pulitzer-winning reporter (PWR). What did I do to become famous? Are my friends green with envy? So first, I decided that i wanted to become famous for somehow making an impact on education. (I at least have a tiny shot at that. Hey! Let me dream.) Then, my reaction was “I’m an open book; ask away.” The more I thought about the question, however, I realized that I did have a few skeletons jangling away in my English teacher closet.
Below is the uncomfortable portion of my interview.
PWR: You’ve just been named Amazing Teacher of the Century. Congratulations. You have obviously thrown yourself into your education career, but you’ve mentioned several times that you once considered becoming a singer. Do you ever still regret not pursuing your musical muse?
Me: Screaming mentally, of course, I do! My heart aches sometimes when I hear a beautiful song, but how can I say that in a way that shows I don’t regret becoming a teacher? Aloud: That’s a tough one. I would never give up all of the friendships that I’ve gained through my teaching career, and I believe that education is the key to growth for individuals, communities, ultimately leading to a better world. So I could never regret the impact I’ve had as a teacher. Still, music is a language that reaches millions in a way that speech never will. It calls to my heart and soul. I certainly am willing now to look into working with music. Whew! I think I dodged that bullet while still telling the truth.
PWR: You spent the majority of your amazing career as an English teacher. What is your favorite book, or who is your favorite author?
Me: OK. I seriously can’t answer this one. What kind of English teacher doesn’t have a favorite author? Hmmm. This is really rough. I read for so many purposes. What I read for pleasure is quite different from what I enjoy studying. I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but I love Shakespeare; I couldn’t name a favorite play, though. I enjoyed studying Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the poetry of Coleridge and the other Romantics, but it isn’t what I read for fun. For pure fun, I enjoy mysteries and science fiction. No single author stands out as “the one,” though. I often also read young adult novels so that I can make recommendations to my students. I turned at least one self-proclaimed non-reader into someone who couldn’t wait for a sequel to a novel to come out. I sounded soooo lame!
PWR: So there’s no favorite, but what about something as an English teacher you just can’t stand to read?
Me: Ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap! If I tell the truth here, there will be a group of English teachers waiting to stone me in the parking lot! I can’t just lie, though. Can I? No. Here goes. Clearing my throat and attempting a hollow laugh, I answer. This may get me into some trouble with my fellow English teachers, but I’m going to tell you my dirty little secret now. I have to confess, though, I thought about lying and pulling out Finnegan’s Wake or Atlas Shrugged; I know I wouldn’t be out there all alone on those. And while I wouldn’t recommend either for fun reading, they don’t inspire the gnashing of teeth or pure dread that the name (deep breath) Mark Twain inspires in me. After a quickly stifled gasp from PWR, I continue. I have tried and tried to enjoy Twain. My husband Carl loves Huckleberry Finn. Carl keeps recommending different Twain stories, novels, and essays to me in the hopes that I will see the light. I have never seen that light. I loathe reading Twain.
PWR: Is it the dialect? That’s it, right? I know many people don’t like wading through the dialect.
Me: I appreciate your offering me an out there, but that’s not it. My secret is out now. I just don’t care about any of his characters. I don’t care what happens to anyone in anything he writes. I need to care about characters on some level–even if it is to hate them. If I were forced to read something by Twain, (and by that, I mean forced with a gun to my head) I’d choose an essay because at least there are no characters to fail to identify with in those. But even in the essays, I find Twain to obfuscate his meanings behind his desire to sound witty. (Carl has pointed out that he was paid by the word, and I think we can all see the evidence of that.) I acknowledge his position in the American literary canon. I know his work is important. If you can read and enjoy Twain, go for it! My personal inability to enjoy Twain does not detract from his greatness. He’s truly great. I mean that sincerely. His writing marks a significant departure from what came before. He deals with important themes and social issues. I get all that. Still, personally, I’d rather endure a tax audit than read anything Mark Twain wrote. *NCTE, forgive me!
What’s the Point?
So, would I ever teach Twain? Absolutely not! I think that a teacher’s love for the subject matter has to come through. Plenty of great works are available. While I dealt with this is a humorous vein, I think it highlights an important issue facing teachers. The intense pressure placed on teachers to “teach to the test” leaves out the human factor. I believe it is important for teachers to select materials for which they feel a connection. It is this connection and enthusiasm that the best teachers pass on to their students. As I said, I love Shakespeare. I have students who dreaded the Shakespeare unit before we did it tell me they loved it afterwards. My passion for the subject was infectious. By that same token, I would not risk spreading a negative infection such as my distaste for Twain to my students. This is one reason that teachers need to have a fair amount of freedom in shaping their own curricula. Sometimes legislators and administrators forget that teachers are human beings with our own likes and dislikes. Completely prescribed lessons and curricula that do not take this into account do students a disservice by depriving them of their teachers’ most enthusiastic teaching.
*NCTE=National Council of Teachers of English