While teaching a class preparing seniors for the rigorous reading and writing demands of college, I would end the semester with the novel Staggerford, by Jon Hassler. This was a pleasant way to end our time together, but it also allowed us to work in a seminar format with the novel.
Before this particular teaching job, I had previously been unfamiliar with the work (and the author, for that matter), but as I learned quickly in my tenure in Minnesota, we embrace Minnesotan authors.
Opinion was split on the book. I loved it from the beginning. The story chronicles a week in the life of one Miles Pruitt, a disillusioned English teacher. It starts out slow, which caused some seniors to reject it as a poor literary example, but I see it as a deliberate ploy to make the readers experience the same monotony and frustration that Miles has lived. The plot intricately escalates to an unexpected turn of events, but that's all the teaser I will give.
As far as the connection I wanted to share, I must relate that Miles has been grading essays, and he stumbles upon one from Beverly Bingham, another key character. The topic for the essay is "What I Wish," and Beverly ends hers this way:
I will only say this: How would you like to have a mother on your hands who's a little more deranged every day? How would you like to be known as the Bonewoman's daughter? How would you like to live in a dump? So there's a lot of things I wish. I wish my dad had had a normal sort of life and I wish my mother was normal and I wish I knew where my sister was and I wish I lived in a house where the birds didn't fly around upstairs and I wish I knew what was going to happen to me in the future. Please help me, Mr. Pruitt.
And this is where I feel my heart ache. What would I do in such a situation, when a student reaches out and drops her guard and pours out her innermost thoughts, wanting resolution? What do you say? How do you get her the needed help without embarrassing her once she realizes what she wrote in haste?
Miles Pruitt struggles with what he should write in return, as he doesn't want this student-teacher relationship to become any more awkward and familiar than has been occurring. Yet, he wants to help Beverly in this genuine cry of desperation.
Finally he comes to a conclusion:
He must guard against becoming anything more than her English teacher. At the top of her paper he wrote, "This should be more than one paragraph."
Ouch. I get deflated even now, even when I have read this book several times. I wish I could alter his choice and instead encourage him to go with his initial instincts and offer aid, passing on the names and numbers of people to contact.
So how exactly does this tie in to my actual classroom? As this has already turned into a lengthy post, I will save the heart of this reflection until tomorrow, when I will wrap it up with a more direct connection. O the anticipation!