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Reading for Analysis

March 26, 2010

I am in the stages of preparing for the two exams that would allow me to teach English and be “highly qualified”.  In doing so, I need to expand my knowledge of the literature “frequently taught in high school”.  Some of it I know (the Hobbit, Romeo & Juliet, Scarlet Letter), some I knew (To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Our Town), some I have secondhand knowledge of (Great Gatsby, The Crucible, A Streetcar Named Desire), and some I just don’t know (Joy Luck Club, Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations).  I want to bring my “knew-it” stories back up to the surface, get a fuller picture of the “secondhand-knowledge” stories, and get a few clues on the “don’t-know-it” stories.  I’m not well-read enough.  I doubt Orson Scott Card and Asimov will be on the tests (though Tolkein and Orwell could be).

Now I pause to laugh at the idea of me being “highly qualified” to teach English classes.  Sure, I am probably as qualified as anyone to teach a high school creative writing class (the reason I’m taking the test), but not literature.  I can’t analyze a poem to save my life.  Looking at my expertise in math and comparing it to my background in literature, it’s a joke to think I can teach the latter.  I simply can’t.  It’s a phantom status that means nothing.  A properly trained and educated English teacher would kick my butt in the teaching of…well, anything.  Grammar, lit, literary movements, authors…  The only thing I have is a reasonable knowledge of what it takes to sell a manuscript.  Even that is pretty narrowly focused.  (Note that knowing how to sell and actually selling are two different beasts; I have some of each.)  So I can teach how to write and how to sell, even how to use grammar, but that shouldn’t qualify (highly or not) me to teach literature.

Why the rant?  well I have this fear that one day I’ll have to teach an English class.  I get forced into enough math classes I don’t want to teach (anything full of failure kids or non-college-bound students is like herding radioactive tomcats), I don’t need to free myself up to gain new classes I don’t want.  I do want to teach the writing — why else would I take the test? — but not a regular English class.  Shouldn’t the desire to teach be part of the “highly qualified” formula?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2010 3:13 pm

    Being a good HS English teacher, from my experience of being in a lot of HS English, takes mostly actually caring about the topics and caring about the students. All the teachers I liked got us engaged and usually did this just be being excited about the books. Of course, this translates into all my good classes. Teachers who cared about the subject were generally just better/more fun and I learned more.

    You also might want to look up “close reading” and see if there are some techniques in that you can take. We did that in college and, especially for poetry, it was way way better way to look at texts than some of the more traditional (and boring) approaches. (If I can find my handouts on close reading and such, I’ll email them to you).

    Of course, I failed honors English and dropped out of HS… so grain of salt as always.

  2. March 30, 2010 7:01 pm

    Because I have a BA in English, people always assume that I know Lit, and I don’t. I was a creative writing major! That’s why I teach remedial writing. However, an easy way to bone up on the high school lit may be to ask a fellow instructor if you can take a peek at their text.

    I also read Cliff’s notes for classics (in the bathroom). It sounds terrible, but who wants to read War and Peace anyway?

    I’m with you on getting roped into topics you’d rather not teach. I wouldn’t teach Comp I for anything. I used to teach this course called College Success, which the students taught me to hate. I can’t bring myself to do it, no matter how much the dean hints around about needing warm bodies for it.

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