To let go of To Kill a Mockingbird

In my past zillion nine years of teaching, I have mainly taught freshman. Freshman are unusual creatures. They usually still like some aspects of school and they are easily entertained through humor – or what I refer to as my stand-up comedy teaching routine. This works when we read my ultimate favorite novel of all time: Harper Lee’s amazing To Kill a Mockingbird. Each year I have perfected my Mockingbird teaching like when I performed a podcast reading of the first chapter with a Southern accent. Or when I took a super-cool (to me, that is) informative slideshow and turned it into a video introducing the novel.  That novel and I are soul sisters and teaching it gave me an excuse to shout it out to the mountaintops (well, to the ninth graders) and make them love it as much as I did.  Some did.  Others did not.  Some didn’t read a bit of it.  Still, this was the book I loved teaching.  Until this past year.

For some reason, the class of 2014 did not take kindly to the book.  Some had a lot of trouble with the dialogue, some were confused with the parallel story lines and some were just breathing in oxygen.  I started getting random questions as we were nearing the end of the novel.  The straw that broke the camels back was when a young dude wearing a LeBron James traitor to the Cavs jersey asked why the narrator was so smart for a six-year-old.  There needed to be a change.

So, I held my quivering chin up and discussed the situation with my amazing colleague.  She suggested moving the sophomore novella, Of Mice and Men, to the freshman level and my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird to the sophomore level.  The only heartbreaking thing is that I don’t teach sophomore English.  So bye bye to TKM.  Sniff sniff.

I went into panic mode.  It was October and I hadn’t read Of Mice and Men since my sophomore year many moons ago.  I think I was also in a class behind the cutest guy named Tim and I don’t think I even concentrated at all on the class discussion.  I believe my sophomore year was The Year of Tim, and one where I didn’t even realize my hair was burning (hey, silly girl with major Crush on Tim, meet the Bunsen burner!) until I smelled it.  Yeah, Tim was in that class, too.  Sigh.

Needless to say I was in panic mode.  Severe.  My super-dee-duper colleague came to my rescue like Superman to a runaway elevator.  She gently led me through activities, discussion topics, study guides and helped me find some much needed courage.

Amazingly enough, it has worked out well so far.  My freshman love Lenny and George, and even want to get up in front of the classroom and read the dialogue from the novel – which is a great use of oxygen!  Hooray!  I even got a little teary-eyed at the part about Candy’s dog (let’s be honest here – who wouldn’t?!)  And I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher helping me through this transition.

As Atticus Finch would say, “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  Ah, Atticus, my hero.  I am really going to miss you. But, I do think I will refer to you now and again AND I think I may use that quote tomorrow when I teach The Scarlet Letter for the first. time. ever.

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One thought on “To let go of To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. I LOVED TKM, OM&M, and SL. However, you forgot to mention another great part of your stand up comedy teaching routine, which is “silly songs with Al” where the ukulele and crazy song styles of you, me, and Elton John feature.
    “L-L-L-Lenny and his pets… LENNY! LENNY! LENNY!!!!” ba-dah-bah-dah-dum!
    Just sayin’.

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