Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Weight of Teaching

The Weight of Teaching

I love teaching. And I love teaching my Writing about Literature class at Catawba Valley Community College. In 20+ years of teaching, I have had a lot of good days in the classroom, and this year, I have had a lot of good days in this particular class. Today was one of the best.

Today we read the poem “Acts of Defiance” in which a young boy has to reach inside the back end of a cow to help a calf be born. The poem says,

I simply did as I was told
and reached my hands,
my forearms, long and thin,
even up to the elbows,
into the bloody back end
of a moaning cow
to grasp what I felt there
and pull,
and pull harder
when it wouldn’t come
until something appeared,
and pull harder still
until something became
a wet mess of calf
spilling into my lap.

One student saw in this struggle to bring about life a metaphor for life itself and for the process we go through to extract meaning from our own lives. “It’s difficult,” he said; “It’s messy. We often don’t know what we’re doing or what we’ve got a hold of, but if we keep pulling, we’ll eventually get it out, and have something of significance.” Throughout this course we have occasionally discussed existentialism and the process of making meaning.

Another student noticed how the boy in the poem is surrounded by his uncles and his grandfather but not his father and suggested the poem expresses the difficulty of learning life lessons in the absence of a parent and the importance of others filling the void left by an absent parent. Throughout this semester we have used reader-response journals to help the students explore how the poems and stories we read relate to their own lives and experiences. This student’s own father has been incarcerated since the student was a young boy.

When the speaker of this poem later witnesses the birth of his own child, he comments “I finally understand / the weight of it all.” Both of these students immediately understood the weight of that line not only in the poem but in their own lives and in their understanding of how meaning is made.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I know why you love teaching these students. And they are fortunate to have a teacher such as you,Scott. Great post.