Light Bulbs, Students, and Engaging with Literature

It occurred to me today that I don’t write enough anymore.

Or at least, not very frequently, which is still a major problem. Part of it’s a time thing: I’m either in a classroom, or I’m editing other people’s writing, or I’m sending emails on behalf of writers to my boss, or I’m trying to maintain the appearance of someone who interacts with people in a purely social capacity. Another part of it is that, to be honest, I don’t have to write as much anymore. I’ve been tweaking short stories (if you want to commission me to write about Greek mythology, my schedule is wide open), trying to end things and make them ready for public consumption, and yeah, I do have to technically write a short (usually around 500 word) article once a week.

I’m still not writing 5,000 words in a day like I used to. Part of why I started a WordPress was to try to get myself into the habit of writing daily again. Maybe I’ll work back up to it during the summer?

Anyway.

It occurred to me while I was watching a student in an AP English class explicate a poem in front of his peers that I miss doing that, and while I definitely love writing fiction, it’s academic writing—or, rather, the kind of writing that involves problem solving in the way only pulling apart a poem in order to figure out its meaning does—that I miss most. For the record: this student was an outlier, and what he could do on the ball (as he admitted freely that most of what he was doing was off the cuff) is not something most high school students can do. It was the first time in a while that I got excited, because it’s English and the actual discussion of it that gets me.

The poem in question was by Claude McKay. That matters and it doesn’t—it matters because I get to see students engage with content that they might otherwise not have, but it doesn’t matter because I still got to see students engaging with literature in general.

Moments were students actually get excited about what they’re reading are moments that matter; it’s why, after two years of observations, I still decided I wanted to be a teacher. Sometimes students don’t really want to do the work (do we all want to work all of the time? No.), but when they do?

It’s seeing the light bulb go off above their heads.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it makes it worth it. Ideally, I’d want students to be constantly having revelations about literature, realizations about what an author is saying, realizations about certain allusions or the effect of a particular literary device.

In a different class, a student answering questions about “The Raven” raised her hand and I went to her side. She said, “I don’t really know what this is asking—what does it mean, the effect repetition has?”

“What does the speaker repeating words do for you as a reader?”

She sat for a moment, and then a kind of shy smile came across her face. “Well, I mean, it’s like that feeling when you know something’s going to happen, but you don’t know what, but it’s still stressful.”

“Anxiety?”

“Yes! That’s what it’s supposed to do, right?” And yeah, when Poe repeats lines and sounds, he’s trying to get the audience anxious. It’s not a major moment for people who look at poems and literature every day, or maybe even a major moment for the AP student who can go analyze a poem in front of his peers with minimal prep. But not every interaction with literature is going to be life changing, and sometimes the small things are what we’ve got to take.

So if I want to engage with literature more, and get those minor and major “Ah-Ha!” moments, I’ve got to actually start writing again. It’s something I have to make time for, but I think, all things considered, I should be able to get it done.

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Author: jillboger

Part time writer. Editor-in-Chief for the Bridge volume 13, former EIC for The Odyssey at BSU. My glasses protect my secret identity.

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