It is about 11:30 a.m., and just moments before class resumes and I begin my lecture, I pick up a tattered book. It is the same book I use every time. I like the way the pages feel after a while. Over the years, they are earmarked and filled with annotations and sticky notes. The spine of the book is cracked, but the inside is still very relevant. Actually, I even like the way those pages smell, that dusty aroma of ink and time.
Once again, we are reading Fahrenheit 451 in my English class, and the book I dotingly hold in my hand is a decade old version I use every year. My journey with this novel, of course, will be the last time this year, and as we rush to free ourselves of the classroom for the summer, virtual or real, I bid a casual goodbye to one of my literary liaisons til next time.
The main character in Fahrenheit 451 is Guy Montag. He is a fireman that burns books. I hope you appreciate the irony. Montag is a character trapped in a world that somewhat mirrors our own. Ultimately, he is a clumsy protagonist with a soul. I told my students this year, surprisingly, that he was one of my heroes.
Contemplatively, every year I seem to come upon revelations that I missed the year before when teaching a piece of literature. It is like I grow with every re-reading and discussion amongst those intrepid minds barbed by cell phones and Facebook guidelines. Is it sad to say they make me think while I am trying to make them think?
Well, this year has been one of the most excellent years as far as discussion relating to the novel, Fahrenheit 451. I think — I hope students were hungry for these conversations. I think they missed the classroom. As I navigate the pages of these pieces of fiction, I feel the students have something to say, and after a while, they want to say it.
Or maybe it is not what is said, but the ability and opportunity to say it. Actually, that is a more accurate feeling as I stand in front of them and lecture, watching them talk over themselves about how Montag is trying to find truth.
Think about that: I have students in my English class, clamoring over themselves, trying to explain how a fictional character is trying to find the truth in a world built on lies. That’s almost supernatural.
Seriously, at that moment, standing in the classroom, with students vying for acknowledgement of their comprehension of a complex concept is a little humbling and inspiring.
They have been amazing. At times, I have honestly felt like I needed to kick up my game, as they delved deeper than I was accustomed to. The only thing that ever made me want to do that was a good professor.
Reflectively, I often take my wife to one of the fancy restaurants downtown for dinner. The other day, while pulling into the Hardees drive thru, I looked over and observed a kid strolling along the sidewalk, face tilted upward in a peaceful revere as he walked. He was wearing headphones and apparently lost in his music. He was one of my students, and I recognized that smile.
It was a real smile, and one that he had wore in class several times as he expressed what he thought about our current novel or some other work of literature. I don’t know if he was listening to Bach or Snoop Daddy Dog, but his appreciation was genuine.
I was thankful that I get to experience that smile on another level. There is a lot going on with education right now, but if I can remember why I am here, I kind of feel like that student walking down the street blissfully content.
Brian Theodore is a language arts teacher at Corbin High School and lives in Corbin with his wife, who is also a teacher at CHS. He can be contacted at Theteachersdesk.email@example.com.