Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Resurrecting My AP English Paper: Confessions of a Former English Teacher


Did you know that P.D. James recently died? You don't know who that is? Well, don't feel bad. I didn't either until I took AP English my senior year. My teacher (whom I adored and still do!) said we needed to be prepared for college and do some literary analysis of someone's work who was still living, but perhaps not "mainstream" like Stephen King or John Grisham. She got to pick the authors.

So I got P.D. James. She was supposed to be this exceptional British mystery writer and I thought, "How hard could this be?". Boy, I ate those words quickly. I didn't get her 500 page books at all. I'll be honest, I'm not sure I even finished either of the ones I was suppose to analyze. It really was too difficult for someone like me who immensely enjoyed reading under people like my teachers, but didn't have an overwhelming desire to read at home. Honestly, I was not a "bookworm" (like so many teachers get stereotyped as) so I didn't have the ability to try and do an AP paper on my own. I liken it to having a personal trainer show you how to use the gym equipment, but when you try to replicate it every once in a while yourself it's difficult because you don't workout enough on your own to remember the skills and routines. I did the paper and I think got a B or a B-, but I wasn't proud of it. I hated that paper because of the struggle it caused me, a naturally good reader. However, I recognize now that a lot of it was my own fault: I didn't read much at home, so my reading muscles were weak.    

Fast forward to now.   

What stirred up these teenage remembrances? I was checking out 10+ new books for my daughters at the library (I've told you all before, I LOVE cruising the kid book sections now to see where accidental sagacity will lead me), and I noticed a little table set up with all these P.D. James books. AP English came flooding back to me and I decided to pick up Death Comes to Pemberley to see if I could hack reading James now 13 years later. I had just finished The Moonstone written by the "godfather of mysteries", Wilkie Collins, so I was already prepped for another mystery anyway. When I got home and showed my husband the book, he noted that James had just died yesterday (N.B. our library always makes a little literary shrine to an author for the week when they die). 

This whole experience of revisiting books, is a theme I am excited about this year. My kids are growing up and I don't want to merely go off the memory of a book considered a classic. I want to read it and understand it myself. I am not who I was at 17. Much like my appetite for vegetables has changed for the better since being married, so have my reading habits. I use Goodreads.com to track my titles and just from books I've read in the last few years my number is 226. This is NOT to brag. If you knew me in high school, that number would have been utterly unthinkable. I had to work up to where I am now as a reader at 30 who really really enjoying reading. Not just to write some paper for a class, but for the sheer enjoyment of it. This year I've been reading classics (The Moonstone by Wikilie Collins), juvenile literature (Holes by Louis Sachar), fun reads (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan), pedagogical (The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller), biography (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand), pop psychology (The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg), silly kid books (The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak) and truly lament how much time I have wasted in my life not reading more when so much free time was available to me.  

The encouragement here is to moms who think their child isn't going to become a reader, sometimes it's a slow journey and not one that can be forced. A lot of my success is due to my husband who love to read. It's nice to be able to share that hobby. Sometimes I think between him and having 3 rambunctious kids I'm turning more into an introvert every day! 

My last tip is for aspiring teachers, please read, read, and read some more. I wish I had done more of that during my time in the summers in college and after I got my first teaching job. When you read widely you can recommend books to your students because you know them and love them. Your school librarian will thank you :)