The spring and summer before I first started teaching high school English I was in regular e-mail communication with one of my future colleagues from the English Department at the school that had hired me. He was trying to help me understand what teaching high school English was like. He concluded one of his letters with the phrase “Teaching English is messy!”
I was to learn just how right he was. Teaching English was messy! Every student in the room was usually at a different point in the creative process and each was motivated and inspired by unique things. Students enjoyed different genres of literature so I needed such a variety of books in my room to entice them. The books were often tossed helter sketler on the shelves. A few didn’t like reading at all. Some writing assignments were done over and over till their authors felt good about them. Other students took persistent coaxing to make them believe they could write a poem or short story. Because kids often shared things about their personal lives in their writing the ‘messiness’ of their daily struggles often found its way into our classroom and into my relationship with them as I tried to lend a sympathetic ear to their challenges. Our classroom was often messy as groups of students stockpiled costumes for presentations of scenes from Shakespeare or we hauled out magazines for collages, or I brought in my coffee pot and muffins to lure stragglers into being on time for early morning classes.
I’ve been thinking lately that life is a lot like English class too. Relationships are usually messy. They rarely run the course described in fairy tales. Different people in relationships want and need different things or are experiencing crisis of joy or pain that need supporting, resolving or negotiating. Friendships don’t just begin and end, they taper off, they are rejunvinated. Some last a life time but grow and change in their intimacy and importance. Goals and plans are messy. They seldom turn out as you expect. Daily life is messy too- full of grungy toilets to be cleaned, appointments to keep, toe nails to cut, commitments to honor and sometimes the need to spend a day in your nightgown.
The beginning of different stages of life open up so many possiblities you can’t see your way through the exciting maze of them and even the end of life can leave loose ends that need to tended and tied up.
I loved teaching high school English. The mess of it was so challenging and rewarding.
I love life. The mess of it is so interesting and inspiring.