Thursday, October 12, 2017

"On Being a Teacher"

I have the best job in the whole world. Okay, maybe that's subjective, but seriously, for me, teaching English at Boston Prep is the absolute b-e-s-t job. I honestly can't begin to explain how much I love it and even if I could, I probably wouldn't because it would just be annoying. It's not normal to love a job as much as I love mine.

This week, the 350th reminder of how lucky I am to teach where I teach came by way of an essay I shared with one of my English classes (juniors and seniors in high school). The essay appeared in The Atlantic in 2008 and is titled, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" It's linked HERE for those of you who want to know the answer. (If you read it you'll see the awesome irony in the fact that no one else but you did.)

In the essay Nicholas Carr explains that the internet has changed the way that we think and particularly, the way that we read. He explained that he used to be able to read a challenging text for long stretches of pages (and time) but now he finds himself unable to do so. Carr uses this great analogy to explain the change: 

My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I tried to review the concept of irony with my classes by pointing out that I could barely get my students to focus long enough to read the whole piece (okay, a full paragraph would have been nice). But even I didn't do it in one sitting, and it's only about 11 pages long. Either way, this essay really got me thinking. Because with reading, and maybe sometimes with life, I'm afraid I've become a Jet Skier, too. 

*   *   *

The short piece that this English class read before Carr's essay was one by Nancy Mairs called, "On Being a Cripple." A copy of that one is HERE. As part of this unit, my students take short pieces of writing and then imitate those pieces, while substituting their own experiences and ideas in for the original author's ideas. For instance, after we read Mairs's essay about being (as she explains it) "a cripple," they had to write their own piece, "On Being a ____."

In response to this prompt, I read everything from "On Being a Narcoleptic" to "On Being Black" to "On Being a Homosexual." Students wrote about having learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and mental and emotional illnesses. I read about soccer and basketball, of course, but I also read about video-game addiction, about traveling all over the world despite not having much money, and about being "a ghost." I learned more about my students in this one assignment than I ever could have imagined. 

Tomorrow they will write their own version of ("Is ____ Making Us ____?"). And I will likely join them. I was going to do ("Is Facebook Making Us Fake?") but just now I had a better idea. I'm going to do, "Can Writing Make Us Smart Again?" and I wholeheartedly believe the answer is YES. But my 20 minutes of quiet are up (hockey and gymnastics are almost over and my stomach is hollering it's so hungry) so I'm going to have to wait to explain myself. And so I mount the Jet Ski until the next time I can sit down in this space and be a scuba diver again. 

To be continued...

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