I've been thinking about this concept as this new semester has begun. I tell this story each semester as I prep my students for how my classroom discussion works. Only today, I realized my simple, tragic beginning to the discovery of my personal teaching theory actually encapsulates so much more about why I really do what I do.
The first assignment in my Introduction to Literature course is to write a one-page essay on why they study literature. I wanted them to really examine why they were sitting in my lit class. I had once been given that assignment, and I enjoyed figuring out why I loved literature so much that I would want to study it. The question, however, has evolved for me: Why do I love teaching literature. I continue to ask myself why.
Well, as I walked to class today, I paid a little more attention to all the people walking past me. There is such diversity (although many people don't think there could be at BYU) in the stories of lives that pass us everyday. My students and I read an excerpt from Tim O'Brien's novel The Things They Carried during the semester. The story tells of the burdens (both physical and emotional) that a group of soldiers carry in Vietnam. Each time I read the story, I am vividly reminded that each of us carry burdens both physical and emotional. Sure we carry our clothes, bags, books, groceries, and so many other things, but we are also carrying worries, tragedy, strengths, weaknesses, joys, and sorrows. Those weights are often more burdensome than the tangible items in our lives. The diversity I see in my walks of campus deal much more with the invisible burdens being carried. There is no way I can possible know what those burdens are, unless I am told about them, but the literature I engage with regularly reminds me that the unseen burdens and weights of life exist. If I can learn to listen and appreciate the stories told across the world, then I hope to be better at listening to and recognizing the stories going on with people in my own life. I never want to forget the importance of the personal story--the reality of another person. I read literature because it makes me remember the humanity of people all around me--it makes the vague generalization become personal and poignant. If I can extend that ability to my students, then I think the world will be a more compassionate place. If they can learn to listen to the stories passing them every day, then I think they will become more sensitive to the humanity of us all.
As for the Emily Dickinson--
We studied her today in class, and I was reminded of her striking observations of the humanity she removed herself from and yet could not dismiss. Although she did not physically contribute to her society, she gave us all a better sense of what being human means. I have included a poem or two for your reading enjoyment.
|IF I can stop one heart from breaking,|
|I shall not live in vain;|
|If I can ease one life the aching,|
|Or cool one pain,|
|Or help one fainting robin||5|
|Unto his nest again,|
|I shall not live in vain.|
|THAT I did always love,|
|I bring thee proof:|
|That till I loved|
|I did not love enough.|
|That I shall love alway,||5|
|I offer thee|
|That love is life,|
|And life hath immortality.|
|This, dost thou doubt, sweet?|
|Then have I||10|
|Nothing to show|