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Day 5: E is for English Lit

April 7, 2015

As I am coming within the last days of my 25-year career in teaching, I can’t help feeling amused that English Lit has been my specialty area.  You see, I skipped my high school senior year, so I didn’t have that experience myself.  I went to college in the summer after eleventh grade, intending to return to high school in the fall and graduate with my class.  After a little taste of the freedom of college, though, I didn’t relish the idea of returning.  A little checking told me I could continue my college studies while working off the last two courses–Economics and Senior English–via correspondence course.  I puttered away at the first course and at the end of my first year of college, with freshman comp complete and one sophomore lit, I decided to take off the summer, return home to work and take English IV with the summer school crowd that hadn’t passed on the first go around.

Needless to say, we didn’t read many of the classics.  I don’t actually remember what we read, but it wasn’t Beowulf or Chaucer or anything by Shakespeare.  I went back to college in the fall no wiser, but an official high school graduate at last.  I finished two years later with an accounting degree.

My decision to teach English came a few years down the road, after I had children and realized that a teacher’s schedule would be perfect for a working mother.  Even more important, I realized that I loved words so much more than numbers.

Returning to complete a master’s degree in English and education, I had the good fortune to study the classic trinity–Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton–under some of the most talented and engaging professors at the University of North Alabama.  From my first year as  teacher, I ended up most years with at least a couple of sections of senior English classes.  Each year, we fought Grendel with Beowulf, learned to recite the first eighteen lines of Chaucer’s General Prologue in Middle English (perfect for this time of year), enjoyed the Arthurian romances (necessary for a true appreciation of Month Python), and–best of all–the Bard!

In high school, I had the time and luxury to have students out of their seats and on their feet for a readers’ theatre experience with Macbeth or Hamlet.  Some of the toughest cases I taught mastered iambic pentameter well enough to use it when flirting.

Once I moved to the community college, I still opted for Brit Lit I when given the choice.  Instead of excerpts, we got to read all of the classics–even Sir Gawain, which should never be read in parts, for risk of losing the sense of balance and mirroring of scenes.

I may not have made as many converts as I hoped, but each year, I hear from a student or two, letting me know that “it took.”  At a concert recently, a former high school student whose name I couldn’t call stopped me to tell me that when she feels nervous, she still recites the General Prologue. “Tell your students it’s really worthwhile!” she insisted.

I could have told her I’d seen it for myself.  When my daughter was giving birth to my first grandchild Avery nine years ago, the doctor on call, upon learning I taught English literature, mused, “Ah!  Chaucer!  Whan that Aprill with hit showers soote / the droughte of March had perced to the roote. . . ”

My daughter, already in the transitional phase, sat straight up in the hospital bed and continued: “and bathed every veine in swich licour. . . .”

What could have made a mother prouder?


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 8, 2015 1:09 am

    You and I are so much alike in lots of things. You’d think we were REAL cousins, Cuz! Love this one. But you already knew I would!

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