One of my students asked me just the other day if I was tired of reading The Crucible. I have been reading it for more than twenty years. I have it memorized. Every single time I read it, the characters make the same exact mistakes they made the last time I read it, and oh boy, do I get angry! And I am sure they will again this time. Every year, Reverend Parris makes me so mad, and I feel so badly for Elizabeth Proctor. Every year, I listen to Deputy Governor Danforth go on and on with his lofty speeches that really show how pompous and stupid he really is. And every single year I love reading the play again—because of my students.
There is no witchcraft in The Crucible, but there is magic when we read it together in class. My students breathe life and energy into the literature with their new experience, their reactions. I appreciate the play, but it is the people in the room with me that make it alive and wonderful. Jaylyn’s frustration with John Proctor’s affair. Gracie’s total investment in all the characters. Tristan’s reading of Giles Corey and Drew’s becoming too involved in his reading of Reverend Parris. Katie’s exasperation with the stupidity of so many of the characters. The collective chuckles and almost audibles grunts of disapproval when characters say awful things. On these days, when we are reading together, I forget that I am working.
What I want my students to understand, even more than irony and symbolism, is that literature is not designed to be studied in a classroom. When we reduce any art, including the written word, to a rote exercise of getting through it, answering questions, taking a quiz, passing a test, then we have robbed our students and ourselves of the essence of the art itself. Art is meant to communicate on its own terms. Sometimes that communication involves pleasure, enjoyment, sometimes it is cathartic. Literature often asks us to reflect, to ask our own questions, to go somewhere different and deeper and better than a quiz could ever take us. And sometimes literature is meant to just be read and enjoyed and discussed with friends.
Part of my responsibility is to teach my students how to read literature well. Of course that means making sure they understand elements of literary analysis. Of course that means I have to check for comprehension. Of course that means I have to do teacher-y stuff.
But that also, and much more importantly, means that I constantly and fervently and genuinely show my students the joy of literature. If that means we read a few lines and then chat about it, so be it. One of my students said sometimes it feels like we are in a book club, not a classroom. Good. Clubs are fun places to be.
Above all else, above even the love of literature and the value of reading, I want my students to see their own value in what we read, to see humanity and truth. I want them to ask questions and think. I want them to know they are what makes the literature worth reading again.
I am excited about reading The Crucible again tomorrow. Honestly, I am. Because my kids will be there reading with me. So much fun!
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.