Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why Can't I Teach British Literature When I Love It So Much?

"Placed at the door of learning, youth to guide,
We never suffer it to stand too wide.
To ask, to guess, to know, as they commence,
As fancy opens the quick springs of sense"
--Alexander Pope, "The Dunciad"

As a 2nd semester freshman, I sat in Dr. Duke Pesta's British Lit class, mesmerized by the way he imbued with life Donne's amorous flea, Jonson's deceased son, and Shakespeare's dark-haired lady. I would sit in my desk, bubbling w/ impatience so that I could get back to the dorm and read the next class' assignment. I waited for the delicious opportunity to teach my own literature class so that I, too, could bring contemporary color to what college students thought was outdated, insipid language.

This semester I was excited to finally teach British Literature, the class that jumpstarted my imagination and revealed what a good teacher could do with a good text. However, this semester, I've feel as though my lectures "blind [the] rebel wit" and "confine the thought[s]" of my students. Now, in brief snatches, I can feel the interest of the class rise as I connect a particular analogy or bring forth a particular point. But often, the room is filled with a muted silence. I speak but my words are arid, they write but their notes are dead.

I am rarely able to create or sustain the exuberance produced in my undergrad Brit Lit classes. I can with American Lit; I love assigning works like Walden Pond, works students find perplexing or irrelevant, only to show them the depth of thought and the relevance of subject matter presented. But I've been unable to reproduce that effect with works like Aeropagitica. Oddly enough, the lit class that students respond most enthusiastically to is Experiencing Lit, my least favorite and the one I feel least confident teaching.

I know one day I, too, will "speak out loud and bold" like Chapman translating Homer, but it may take a bit longer than I anticipated. Of course, I believe I can get things moving northward by Fall Break. Perhaps my optimism springs from all those Romantic poems I gotta teach.

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