Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lessons from British Literature

That title might be a little deceptive.  No, I'm not going expound on the subtle nuances between Jane Austen's early works vs. her later novels, and I'll let you decide what makes Frankenstein a quintessential work of Gothic fiction.  While those might (or might not) have been discussed in the British Literature co-op class that I taught this year, and I HOPE the students learned SOMETHING these last two semesters; the lessons I gleaned  might be more fascinating than anything Lord Byron ever penned.

1.  When a class meets only once/week and the kids don't already know each other, it takes about a semester for everyone to start feeling at ease with each other.  Once they settle in and are comfortable, they can really talk and play pranks on one another.  You might want to check the stability of your chair before you sit in it.

2.  Even kids who have never been to school have the ability to entice the teacher down rabbit trails.  Enough said.

3.  Just because they moan and groan about having to read a particular book doesn't necessarily mean they don't have strong opinions about the book or the author.

4.  Just because they moan and groan about having to read a particular book doesn't necessarily mean they are missing the beauty of the literature.  Yes, you would have thought making these boys read Persuasion or a work of Shakespeare was something akin to waterboarding; but once the discussions started, they were quick to read the class their favorite lines and animatedly describe their favorite characters.

5.  Despite my love for Jane Austen, none of my class will probably ever read another Austen novel.  Somehow, that makes me sad.  They loved the characters, but being a class of mostly boys, they kept waiting for a sword fight or an accident more tragic than a twisted ankle, a high fever, or a silly girl jumping off a step.

6.  Instructed to select a novel to read from a particular list, students WILL NOT always pick the shortest.  Okay, some kids will (and his last name is strangely similar to mine), but many don't.  I think one brave soul even started Middlemarch

7.  I can never guess how students will react to certain authors or works of literature.  I mean, who would have thought that the student mentioned in #6, the one who selected to read Heart of Darkness and The Time Machine (due to their short page counts) would spend free time reading poetry by William Blake.  Seriously, who knew?  *I* have never spend free time reading William Blake. And that same student claims his favorite work in the cannon of British Literature is Pilgrim's Progress.  Do you have any idea how happy that makes my heart?

8.  Everyone is strangely and pleasantly surprised by Frankenstein.  Possibly the class's favorite book of the year.

9.  Austen is a let down after the suspense and intensity of Frankenstein.  If I ever teach Brit Lit again, I think I should put some distance between those two works, particularly for boys or younger students. The wit and keen mental insight of Jane Austen is somewhat lost on students still engrossed in murders and monsters.

10.  While relieved to drop one ball from my proverbial juggling act, I'm going to miss seeing these kids every Wednesday morning.  They have been a delight to get to know and teach. 

Oh...and one more...a teacher bringing Dunkin Donuts offsets the ire induced by giving difficult tests or too much homework.  Really, a Boston cream or jelly roll greatly increases affection.  The way to a student's heart (especially a class full of boys) is through their stomachs.


  1. Love this, Natalie! :-) And don't be too sure about those boys never reading Austen again. One day they will either pick it back up on their own, or they will be encouraged by future loves to do so. I have plenty of male Austen reders around here as adults who fought me over it as children!

  2. Chris, that's very encouraging. I suspect future loves can induce any number of transformations. :-)

  3. Your British Lit class sounded so much like mine. My class chose Frankenstein to read as the last novel of the year. However, I did require them to read Pride and Prejudice. Actually, the guys in my class loved it! I was shocked, to say the least!!! I miss my class too, but I don't miss grading their papers. Actually, I enjoyed reading their papers, but I'm not the best when it comes to grading. I'm probably too lenient except with my own kids.

    Jan from ClassEd

  4. Jan,
    Several of the kids in the class (my own included) had already read Pride and Prejudice when they did Omnibus, thus the selection of Persuasion. Yeah, I hate grading. I don't know how teachers do it. :-)