Me: Now, what was happening in the 1960s that had a profound impact on all of America, including and especially the rural South?
Me: No, that was less than ten years ago, remember? Something important was happening in the 1960s that you have been learning about since elementary and middle school. [attempt to reactivate a topic that is arguably OVER-taught in the early grades]
Brian: The Civil War?
Me: Well, that happened MUCH earlier, but you are right to be thinking about issues connected to slavery and its long-term ramifications. [attempt to let student save face and hoping to push thoughts in the right direction in spite of the fact that I KNOW the student is not thinking about these issues]
Me: Nope. And that's still not a word. [attempt to remind student that he has used this non-word in multiple situations, none of which was remotely related to World War II or Nazi Germany]
[During a classroom conversation with sophomores in preparation to read Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.]
Yes, I know it's a terribly important piece of literature for multiple historical, cultural, social, and literary reasons. But somehow I get the feeling this class may suck dry what is left of my already anemic enthusiasm for the the novel. It's going to be a war of attrition. Can I chip away at their ignorance, apathy, and general hatred of reading more rapidly than they can drain my resolve to show them why this book is worth their time and effort? I remind myself (as I so often remind them) that I get paid the same no matter what, which means I can surrender at any time--resort to worksheets and SparkNotes and showing of the movie--and no one outside our little disfunctional classroom community will find out or even care.
I do a quick gut check, take a deep breath, and begin. Fake it 'til you make it. That's my motto. We will make it to the end of the novel and find things to love about it. And I will make them embrace one of the novel's important messages--that human love and compassion are powerful and influential forces for good and can defeat hatred and intolerance and violence--and they will learn this...even if I have to beat it into them.