Thursday, March 18, 2010

Teaching "The Cherry Orchard" before Spring Break

My students today were like handsome, well-trained horses. With pleasant expressions, they tried to sit still and endure my enthusiasm for Chekhov's dark humor and wit. But this was the last class before Spring Break began. No one wanted to talk and prolong things. And as the hour wore on, like polite horses growing impatient, they kept earnestly looking into my eyes, silently conveying their need to be let loose into the pasture where they could race up and down the lane at breakneck speeds. Or in this case, hop into the car already packed with swimsuits and sunscreen and speed off to the Gulf.

I tried to warn them: Don't be a Madame Ranevskaya, attempting to medicate the pain in your life by running off on romantic trysts to Paris with a man incapable of loving you. The way to love yourself is to take charge of your finances. Be realistic. When the world changes and the tsunami comes, stand alert and ready to stay afloat.

Right. That's exactly what they'll remember this week. That will be foremost in their minds as MTV films Girls Gone Wilder at Panama City Beach. In fact, I am sure they will mope around their hotel rooms, sipping tea and contemplating poor Madame Ranevskaya and the poignant Firs. All week long.

But just in case they do not, I have a plan for April ( that cruelest month) that should win them over. Baudelaire, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot. After spring break, pollen, the spring equinox, and Daylight Saving Time have attacked their young, healthy bodies and given them a taste of their own mortality, that will be the perfect time to introduce ennui, "The Second Coming", and wasteland imagery. I can't wait for that cold, gray spring day with dreary, heavy rain to pull out "Spleen" with its prison bars of falling rain, its bats and spiders in the moldy recesses of the basement brain. I can't tell you how many times the weather has cooperated on the days when I have taught that poem . How many times have I read aloud the lines describing the prison bars of rain falling straight down while nature humors me and the dark low clouds outside pour while, inside, we watch the water stream off the roof in straight bars six inches apart? When you are cold and wet and have just walked across campus without your fancy decorated rain boots you forgot and left back in your large bedroom closet at home, so unlike this cramped dorm room closet you have to endure, and you have three more classes after this one, ennui may seem like a pretty good idea after all.

There is no need ever to grow bored teaching the same literature year after year. After all, the students keep changing, so there is always something new to look at. And they are so much stronger than I am or have ever been. Their clear brown eyes watch me, waiting for a sign that they are now allowed to leave. Their long legs, folded and cramped beneath the desks, fidget.

Teaching is not a bad way to spend one's life.

Unless you are in California where I hear 23,000 teachers were fired today.

But we are in Alabama where it takes ten years for whatever wave begins in California to reach us, where we have ten years to say 'no' to the trip to Paris, take charge of our finances, be realistic, stand alert, and stay afloat as the tsunami approaches.


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