Last year I retired from a profession that was probably the most challenging, the most frustrating, and in many ways the most rewarding profession that I’ve ever held. When I rolled my wheelchair out of my high school English classroom for the last time, I had to take a moment to recognize and honor all that I had gained from the experience. My reasons for choosing not to return to the classroom are complex and varied, but one thing is without doubt: to watch a student read, process, and discuss a work of literature is a thing of beauty.
I recall so well my freshman class’s heartfelt reactions to the suffering of young Elie Wiesel as we became immersed in the story of Night. Class discussions revolved around the cruelty of humankind and the necessity of hope, and their journals reflected just how engrossed they were in the journey. They experienced a similar reaction when the students (who were, like the school, about 92% Caucasian) dove into the life of Richard Wright and his shocking experience of growing up in the Jim Crow South in Black Boy. During our conversations we explored topics such as the use of the “N word,” poverty, racism, religion, and, of course, the cruelty of humanity. (more…)