The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Nothing like nonsensical genius to spice up English class! Assignment: Bring in a favorite poem to share. After several inane recitations (obviously the students had just googled “funny English poem”), nothing could have changed the tone more than the otherwise quiet 1th-grader on the back row spontaneously reciting Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” from memory.
The past couple of weeks have proved that you never know what English class is going to hold. For one class, the teacher assigns me an article on a shark attack; for another, one on the importance of adequate sleep. Then, there are the super easy classes where I talk with rotating small groups about a topic (“hobbies,” for instance, or, “Should TV for children be entertaining or educational?”); I like interacting with just a few students at a time, and they seem to enjoy it, too (even if the topic is boring).
Or, more challenging, for one of the 8th form (12th grade) classes, the teacher asks if I can prepare a lesson on “Religion in the U.S.” (Afterall, she’s seen on my job application that I minored in Bible at college — an oddity here, and it must mean I’m an “expert”!) A couple of other teachers catch on to the idea, and I’m blown away with the opportunity to talk about religion and faith in a public school setting. When I ask if I can share my personal faith, the answer is an eager “yes!”
Last week, I got a call about 9:00 p.m. from a teacher who wanted to discuss what to do in class the next morning. “Have I heard the news?” (Oh dear, I think, what world event have I missed?) …A local tragedy: A 13-year-old at a neighboring school jumped from an upper story school window — could we talk about teenage suicide…?
The next morning, the teacher abandons other lesson ideas and invites the students just to talk. It’s one of the most candid student-teacher exchanges I could have imagined. For homework, the teacher asks the students to create some sort of artistic response (poem, drawing, etc.). I want to do the homework assignment, too. I have been mute for most of class; the freedom to talk candidly in the face of such a tragedy is like trying to write a free-verse poem. I can’t do it well. Strangely, the challenge of some sort of formal structure creates space to frame lament, to grasp at a hope that is real, not trite. It’s not a cozy way to end a blog post, but I’ll close with the sonnet I’ll share with the class next week:Empty Nest A fledgling falls – Ah, swift, untimely cowed By hard, unflinching ground that turns youth cold. Fast the fall, scatt’ring leaves and laughter. Fold New morn’s mirth in gloom; bring the mourning shroud. The nest is mute, save weeping – wailing loud For silenced chatter, no more to cherish, scold; For shattered form, no more to nourish, hold; For short-cut youth – glad child, parents proud. Thou who laments the sparrow’s fall*, weep Thou? Heed Thou, who blessed the babes**, this mother’s call? Thou, who mourned o’er scattered chicks***, weep now! Though seasons change, must grief forever gall? Or can Thy mingling tears, o’er barren desert flow****, Dissolve despair, bring spring, reverse the Fall? *Matthew 10:29 **Matthew 19:14, 15 ***Luke 19:41; Matthew 23:37 ****Psalm 84:6