My sophomores are from all over the globe: Canada, the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, and South Africa. I look at them, and remember myself at that age. The insecurities I felt. Trying to figure out who I was and where I fit. I struggled to keep up with friends and classes, and endured a boyfriend-less state, and many Friday nights I could be found riding the bench at basketball games, half-hoping and half-dreading that Coach would put me in.
But my sophomore year was not all awkwardness and loathsome moments. It was the year that my English teacher said to me, “You have a gift.” My essay on To Kill a Mockingbird was photocopied and handed out to all her sophomore classes. This was significant in more ways than one. Obviously, she gave me a confidence boost when I was desperately needing one. But more significantly to me at the time, the boy I had a massive crush on but had never peeped a word to turned to me in German class and commented on it.
"Good job on your essay."
I died and went to heaven right there. I was sure it meant we were destined to be together and spent hours thinking of just how he turned his head and said those blessed words to me. I was reminded of this little episode when we were in the U.S. this summer and I came across an old journal from that year. I had devoted two pages of painstaking detail to the whole incident, and I cringed and laughed to read it.
My teacher lit a little flame in me, one that gave me hope that despite my lack of prowess on the basketball court, there was something I could do, something that could possibly even become a career one day.
She told me she fully expected to see my name on a book cover in the future, and though that has not happened, and may never happen, I still love to write. And now I get to teach writing to high schoolers.
The class I'm teaching is unique in that my oldest child is one of my students. Perhaps he was having flashbacks to our homeschool days, but he was a bit wary heading into this semester knowing his mother would be teaching him. Also, there is just so much potential embarrassment to having your parent standing in front of your peers, saying all kinds of mortifying things. I’ve gotten a few goofy comments from him, like “Mom, don’t touch me in class” or “Mom, the kids don’t like it when you give homework.” (What was I thinking, assigning homework to high schoolers?!). Then, when it is convenient to him, having Mom as Teacher is the greatest thing evah. “Mom, can you hold my papers for me and bring them home?” “Mom, can I borrow 5,000 rupiah for a doughnut?” Mmmm-hmmm. When it’s advantageous to him, I am Beloved Teacher Mom. But I’m not going to be too hard on him – there should be some perks to having your parent teach you.
We just wrapped up a study of To Kill a Mockingbird (isn't that poetic? It seems I've come full-circle). I had forgotten what a wonderful book it is. Maycomb, Alabama reminds me of the little town in Mississippi where I spent many vacations visiting my grandparents. I can so easily envision the dusty streets, the odd neighbors, the Jitney Jungle. None of my students have spent any significant amount of time in the deep South, so I had to explain a great deal to them. Why manners are so important. Why you don't ever say the "N" word. What ambrosia and azaleas are. How hard it was for African-Americans then, and how hard it still can be.
The best thing about the book is Atticus Finch, the central character and the hope of his small town. Re-reading it, I realized that I love Atticus because he reminds me of several people in my life with impeccable integrity: my father, his father, a former boss, my husband, my father-in-law. Each of these men went (or still goes) about their work in a steady and quiet manner, compassionate and courageous in big and small ways.
The themes of the book - prejudice against certain people groups (that certainly happens here in Papua), stereotyping, courage under pressure - are timeless and universal and I enjoyed helping my students relate to them.
As much as I've enjoyed the class, I'm looking forward to the next few weeks off with time to read books of my own choosing. Right now I'm reading Why Do They Act that Way? about teenagers' brain development (really, it's riveting), How Now Shall We Live? by Francis Schaeffer (can only take a few bites of that one at a time), and Realityland, a behind-the-scenes story of how Disney World was made. Yes, the Disney obsession continues. What are you reading???