I left my office, and walked briskly across the car park, up the steps, and along the covered walkway, and all the way, I’m thinking about how I will implement my plan for the day’s first lesson. I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘micro-manager,’ but I do have a number of options, depending upon the ‘mood’ of my new 8 am, 19th Century American Literature class. I prepare with the knowledge that “Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail,” I always have more than one card up my sleeve. I cock my ear as I approach Room 4-23, and hear the subdued buzz of conversation, some gentle laughter, and my day just got a wee bit easier, and better!
On the first day of class I sought their opinions about what they expected to get out of the course, and I got the usual platitudes of, “knowledge of, understanding, da da, da da,” the normal, ‘what the teacher wants to hear, mostly integratively motivated (Gardner and Lambert, 1972) thinking’ that is almost generic for such situations. Then, what I really wanted, happened! A young woman, in a truly instrumentally motivated (ibid) response said, “I just want to finish this course, get my degree and go.” Well, you could have heard a penny drop! Everyone looked at her, stunned at her effrontery, almost like a, “How dare you tell the truth?” Me, I just waited for my moment and silently applauded her, and must have had a smile a mile wide on my face as I stepped towards her and said, “Thank you for being so honest,” and addressing my thoroughly confused class said, “That’s what I want from you. What you think, not what you think I want to hear. So why are you really here? What do you really want from me?”
Everyone was talking to everyone, so again there was an opportunity, and I asked everyone to write in ten words what they really wanted. It worked a treat, with the honesty poured out in these mini-bites, and I got them to read out every single one, by picking them ‘out of a hat.’ It was fun, informal, and the one that read, “I just want to sleep,” got the biggest laugh of all, but the message got through. This class would focus on them, on their transparency and honesty, and as long as they were honest with themselves, they would reap the benefits. From Hosea 8:7, “Those who would sow the wind, will reap the whirlwind.”
This class has not been perfect, and hasn’t always enjoyed the stories. They encountered the philosophy, history, and fantasy of ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ staggered through the religious evil and depravity of ‘Young Goodman Brown,’ thrived on the horror of ‘The Black Cat,’ celebrated “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by watching the movie version from 1960, were intrigued by the human nature of ‘Maggie,’ and finally confused by Walt Whitman, but treasured the honesty of Emily Dickinson.
We have though, managed to make the class all about them, and how they can relate, their perspective and perceptions of the subject, and its very diverse topics, and it’s not me, but the students themselves, who can take credit for that. They have come full circle, with a dash of honesty providing the inspiration for a full semester of study. This isn’t a catalogue of stories that I would have chosen, and I can’t even say that I am a fan of the literary period, but there are pearls of wisdom to be found within it that may in their turn, inspire
greater appreciation of its learning opportunities.
Actually, it’s not a bad philosophy for life is it? Honesty and transparency must surely foster shared positive experiences for all, not just these 44 wonderful young people who by their behaviour, nature, and shared discoveries, I’m sure have become more effective students, and even better people.