This blog will be noticeably different today. My name is Matthew and I am the author of the blog The Unpredictable Teacher. I’m joining Mackenzie’s blog today and she’ll be joining my blog! Mackenzie and I are both English instructors. I teach high school English and Student Council. In addition, I’m a wrestling coach, Peer Mentor, husband, and father.
Okay, here we go…
What could an educated, professional teacher possibly have in common with a sixteen-year-old, cynical boy?
Well, the answer may surprise you.
If you ask any teacher, “Why did you get into education?” Not a single teacher will say they got into it because they love to work too hard for too little pay. The answer will almost always be, “because I love children.” That’s certainly why I got into education.
When I was in school, I was terrified and I hated school. I struggled in both reading and writing, but particularly in reading. I remember one day back in 3rd grade (I think), I was pulled out of class and taken to the counselor’s office. They administered all these tests and concluded that I had to be put into something called, “resource.” I was pulled out of my regular classroom and put into a different classroom where I received more support with reading and writing. Years later, I exited out of resource and rejoined my classmates. However, I never really felt comfortable reading out loud in class. Whenever I was called on to read out loud in class, I would die a little inside. “Popcorn-Reading” was the most miserable experience for me. I would literally try to disappear into my seat so that no one would call on me to read. Till this very day, I still have a small panic attack whenever I read in front of people.
I finally got to the point where I couldn’t take the stress anymore. I was resolved to do something about my reading ability. Toward the end of high school (yes, high school), I went on a reading rampage. I just started reading everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I grew to like reading. Then, I grew to love reading and learning. Now, I’m an English teacher (an Honors teacher, as a matter of fact).
That’s part of the reason I became a teacher: I didn’t want students to feel the same way I felt while in school. I don’t want students to feel ashamed and scared. I don’t think any kid should feel stupid and defeated, like I did. I love my students too much to allow them to feel that way.
I know there are many students that feel the same way I felt. And, there are students that are simply not challenged enough by school and so they don’t apply themselves—like Holden Caulfield. At the beginning of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden has been kicked out of his fourth school because of his refusal to apply himself. In fact, he has just failed four of his five subjects (the only subjected he passed was English). Unfortunately, there are many students just like Holden. They are not challenged by school. They are so bored with the work that they don’t bother doing it. As a result, they fail out. To me, this is heartbreaking.
The unchallenged student is not a bad kid. Yes, he might be unmotivated and distracted, but that doesn’t make him bad. Often times, the unchallenged kid is very smart, and his failing grade does not represent his ability. Who is to blame for his lack of success? I would say it’s both his teacher and the student. The teacher is responsible to cause the student to learn. If the student is not challenged then the teacher needs to challenge him. The teacher is responsible to motivate the student and remove distractions. This doesn’t mean the student is off the hook. The student is responsible to learn regardless of the teacher.
Okay, so what does Holden Caulfield have in common with teachers?
Spoiler alert: I’m going to share with you why the book is titled The Catcher in the Rye. If you haven’t read the book by now, I don’t feel bad for you (Shame on you for not reading the book sooner).
In chapter 22, Holden is talking to his little sister about why he hates school. She tells him that he hates everything. When Holden disagrees, she challenges him to name one thing that he likes. He names a few things and then he says this:
“. . . I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”
Obviously Holden could never be a catcher in the rye when he grows up. But this is what Holden has in common with teachers. As teachers, we are all Catchers in the Rye. Metaphorically speaking, our students are playing around in this big field of tall rye grass. They are so observed in themselves and the distractions all around them that they don’t see the gigantic cliff right next to them. At any time they can make a mistake and fall off the cliff. Everyone knows that kids today are distracted by television, Facebook, Twitter, and all these video games. Not to mention being totally absorbed with friends and the people that like them or don’t like them. If they’re not careful, those distractions could lead them right off of a cliff: they could fail classes, drop out of high school, and totally handicap their future quality of life.
Sometimes it takes a teacher to come out from somewhere and catch them. It takes a teacher to motivate a student. It takes a teacher to show interest in a child. It takes a teacher to intervene and refuse to let a student fail. As teachers, we are protecting our students to that they don’t fall off the cliff. It certainly takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and hard work. But, I can’t think of any title with more honor than Catcher in the Rye.
Question: When have you been a Catcher in the Rye? Comment below or Tweet me @Matt4Newport
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