In Shakespeare's The Tempest, lives are magically transformed, and, in my more idealistic moments, I like to think English class can do the same for my students. As one example, I hope each poem and story we read will contribute to at least a partial overhaul of the students’ ideas and feelings. I want the reading and study of literature to be like taking a steaming, soapy shower. It may sound naïve, but I’d like them to emerge from each book as bright, brand new, newly-enlightened learners. Who knows – a student may come to class caught in severe depression, but leave with a light around him after studying a poem by Keats. A girl may get her life up and running after reading Great Expectations, and a boy might lift up his days through an attentive exploration of some Jack London stories. I recall countless times when a poem or a paragraph enabled me to turn my day in a totally new direction, and I hope, optimistically, that the same can happen for my teenage students. Lord knows my students are not wretched kids who need a complete makeover, but all of us enjoy renovating and reshaping our lives now and then, and literature is one of the greatest transforming agents of all. You can enter a Shakespeare play as a cantankerous quitter, and emerge from Act 5 as a bright and breezy idealist. Just the other day, I thought I noticed a satisfied smile on a girl’s face after reading some poems by William Stafford– this from a girl who usually lives under sinister clouds. She was transformed, if only for a few moments, not by expensive possessions or a pill, but by a poet she came across in English class.
© 2010 Hamilton Salsich
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