Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Open Letter to My Son’s High School English Teacher (and Stephen King)

There’s a rant in here so beware. The rant will be directed at My Son’s High School English Teacher. I have no plan to rant about or at Stephen King, but I gotta tell him something.

So first:

Dear Mr. King,

I read your book, “On Writing” and I loved it. I never realized the pain you went through even before you were blind-sided by a van on that country road. I do, however, have one comment, and seeing as you have sold 10 billion books and I haven’t completed a single manuscript, take it as you will.

You had some wonderful advice – written in that great style that is yours. I don’t think there is anyone more devoted or enthusiastic about the English language.

In your book, pointed out something very important: “To be a good writer, you need to do 2 things: read a lot and write a lot (and kill those adverbs).”

However, I’ve not gotten to blogging at 50 without one other piece of the puzzle, which I feel is equally as important: You need to listen and observe A LOT. For obvious reasons. Without getting out into the world, talking and observing, one’s output could possibly rival the Bronte Sisters. But if you want to be Hemingway, or Crichton or Grisham for that matter, you need to get out into the world, get busted up and back, from here to Sunday and READ A LOT and WRITE A LOT.

Lara Angelina Harrison
(never published, but observant as hell)

Now, onto my rant, which I’m sure you will enjoy for its sheer poetry.

“Dear Sean’s High School English Teacher:

I’m just a mom. I work, do laundry, cook and clean. I have full time job. I run my kids around until I’m exhausted and my brain is ready to implode. However, even in my most pathetic, depressed, exhausted, horrid frame of mind, I could make English more exciting than you.

Sean was to read “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Great Gatsby” this year. Both incredibly magnificent reads. Rich, full---positively amazing! I read “Gatsby” in high school 30 years ago and still remember being taken back in time with the story of Daisy and Jay, the eyeglasses, the gas station, Daisy’ relationship with her cousin; with the mystery of Gatsby himself. “A Raisin in the Sun”, so moving – the characters just draw you into their lives, into their problems, into their private pain. It takes some mighty fine writing to do that.

Now how could this be an absolute nightmare of a chore to read either one of these? Especially for a kid like Sean, who actually goes to the library on his own to find things to read?

Answer: crappy teaching. My friend Anne’s grandpa said once “it’s Anne’s job to show up at school and the teacher’s job to make her enjoy learning” Or something like that. More beautiful words were never spoken.

When I spoke to this teacher, I was stunned she was an English teacher. Dull, flat, hates her job, hates the kids. Not one ounce of enthusiasm in her entire molecular structure. So here’s some advice to spice things up in the classroom for next year:

Get rid of the monotone when discussing books. Books are like living creatures – they breathe, they give meaning, they have an energy all their own. Once you’ve read a GOOD book, you never forget it. Synapses in your brain store the words, the imagery, the feelings given off things we’ve read. That’s some pretty powerful stuff, Ms. Unhappy High School English Teacher.

Not only that, but how introducing authors’ backgrounds? Stories of Fitzgerald’s life interspersed with Gatsby…how about that? F. Scott’s wife Zelda was a story in her own right, his failure in Hollywood, his drinking, their daughter Scotty. Please. Authors’ life stories (see King, Stephen above) are so pivotal to what they write. You can’t separate the two.

Also, this is the 21st century. Offer the kids the opportunity to download the books onto their iPods. Make a deal with Amazon for a group download or something. Rent the damn movies – Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for “A Raisin in the Son”. Dear God, Woman, Wake Up.

And yes, Ms. Unhappy, you can tell me the kids don’t care, don’t pay attention, and blah, blah, blah. They are TEENAGERS. It’s their job to be aloof – it’s your job to keep them motivated and watch for that glimmer in their eyes when you’ve gotten them hooked.

Look, the great authors, and the not so great authors ALL had English teachers. I had great teachers. My eighth grade English teacher showed me the beauty of books, of words, of writing. Maybe I’m the only one…..but she got through to me and I hope to high heavens you can get through to someone. You never reached Sean, who is pretty damn accessible when it comes to reading.

I was going to wish you good luck, but I think it might be more appropriate to say good luck to the kids in your future classes.

Sean’s mom”


Anonymous said...

Oh, I miss my Grandpa! He made sure I knew he loved me unconditionally, and he was always on my side, no matter what. It's the kind of love children should take for granted. Unfortunately he died when I was 16.

(PSST! Great post but for one thing: Sidney Poitier won his Oscar for "Lillies of the Field." It's the kind of thing that tight-assed English teacher just might come back at you with.)


Lara Angelina said...

Thanks for the correction -- I was so sure it was for "Raisin". He was so magnificent in that movie, but everyone was.

I just hope this English teacher reads this and someone, sometime is saved.

Thanks again,