A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Edgar Allan Poe and My Classroom

We just finished reading Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. They’re rich in vocabulary and detail. “Morella” really got my class excited. They didn’t understand how the coffin could be empty, but then they went through the story again and discovered the baby began to breathe after the mother died, why we need to explore the lives of others, and how insanity moves within us.

The protagonist—if you could call him that—began as a loving husband to a beautiful and accomplished wife, but somewhere in his mind things began to change. She became hideous, her voice nauseating, even her touch cold to his hand. When she died, no longer loved by him, during childbirth, their baby took its fist breath after the mother took her last. Suddenly my class made a number of connections. Was the baby Morella come back to life? She looked just like the first Morella, sang like her, had the same need for life. But why did he keep her isolated?

We delved into the neighborhood of my students.

“We didn’t know beating us with a belt was not normal,” one of the girls said. “We thought everyone did that to their kids.”

I asked how many agreed with her. Every child raised their hands. They all knew someone beaten until they were bleeding or had been beaten themselves.

The turn of events took us back to the child. She lived in isolation—total seclusion. “Why was he doing this?” one of the boys asked.

“Did he want to marry her?” a girl answered with another question. “She wouldn’t know its wrong. How could she. She never had a chance to learn. She might think all girls married their father.”

And then we were off—into the lives of my students until one of my students said, “Look at Poe. He married his second cousin when she was just thirteen. Was that normal in that time period?”

And we were off again. I just watched, the coach on the sideline, my class coming alive as they explained the demons and fiends that ate at the main character’s brain in the story, Morella”.

When she died, they knew he did not kill her. But why did she die? Revenge, came their answer. The first Morella wanted him to suffer the loss of her love again. And then we were in Greek mythology. Is revenge always correct? Should punishment fit the crime?

Prometheus deserved better from the Gods. He helped the humans, didn’t he? To have your liver eaten from your body everyday is just too much. But Midas? Yes, he was too greedy for gold and the punishments of Hades—they were designed to fit the crime.

There’s nothing better for a teacher than to watch a classroom come alive with the study of a story. And there’s nothing better than afterwards to hear a student who is often apathetic and uninvolved say, “That story was too cool.”

I thought cool was my word.


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