When he saw me sinking into one of my listless, lazy moods, my dad used to say, “Snap out of it”, and it has often seemed to me that my students and I do some of that kind of snapping in English class. There’s a kind of sleep-inducing dreaminess that occasionally comes over my classroom, almost like a soft cloud of slowness has descended on us, and it’s lucky for all of us that something usually happens to snap us out of it. It might be a sentence from To Kill a Mockingbird, or a few phrases from an Emerson essay, or some spoken words sprung on us by one of the students, or even a sudden sweep of wind in the trees outside – something usually cracks open the sleepiness so it drains away and leaves some fresh attentiveness in its place. Now and then it’s my brusque words that arouse the students, as happened today when a boy was spellbound by sparrows outside the windows and a few words from me forced him back to our discussion, but usually something more commonplace occurs to carry us back from dreamland. I’ve seen a whole class suddenly sit up and look alert when a student speaks a few forceful words about a story or poem. It’s like an alarm sounded, or sunshine suddenly fell on us after a few overcast days, or lights came on in a dark stadium. It happens every day in English class, sometimes over and over, this rising up from the slumber of tedium, this graceful snapping out of it.
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