Sunday, December 1, 2013

Schoolmarm Skirt: End of Term Blues -- in Red

Hat: boutique; Shirt and Earrings: informal clothing exchange in my apartment building; Skirt: Man za na; Boots: Ecco; Brown ring: thrift.
To date, my most popular post is the one about rocking my schoolmarm shoes. It ranks highly in Google image searches. Go figure. When I look up "schoolmarm shoes," I feel almost famous.

This is my schoolmarm skirt. Do you suppose it too will be popular?

The fact is, I actually am a schoolmarm. I'm the type of schoolmarm most often stereotyped as prim, proper, and prudish, the type assumed to have no life, and to be strict beyond all reason.

I am a college English teacher!

The weird irony is that I find that English teachers tend to be far more liberal then their own students. Literature, if read with any attention, broadens the mind to the huge range of human experience, culture, and emotion. It's almost impossible to read widely and remain conservative.

Yet the demeaning stereotypes persist. I'm really not sure where they began but I can promise you that they are not based in fact.

My role model for the day was Mrs. Sherwood, the high school English teacher in the 80s television show, Fame

I would love to have her skirt! I've been looking for one like this forever. Until I find it, the one I wore this day will have to do. Midi skirts like hers are back, and not a moment too soon.

Mrs. Sherwood was, to mix my metaphors, the square peg in the cool, performance arts school in New York City. She too struggled with students who were interested in anything but English -- yet were required to take her courses. Like me, she had to deal with students who who saw no value in the material she held so dear, and saw no connection between their own passions and hers.

Their disinterest was and is rooted in a lack of knowledge about what literature really is, but, once a student's mind is made up, it's hard to get her to change it. Try getting a kid to try a food that she's decided she will hate, and you get an idea of the uphill battle I face.

In my opinion, literature is unquestionably art so belonged in a school like that in Fame. It's art just as a great painting or a wonderful dance is, but I know that convincing some people of that fact is virtually impossible. 

That paper in my hand is a copy of the short story, Stones, by Timothy Findley. It's a harrowing story of a young boy's confusion and heart break when his previously gentle and loving father returns from World War II a broken and violent man, destroyed by PTSD

Is it art? Yes! Just read the passage about the "celebration" upon the men's return and you'll be convinced.

I may be physically disabled. I may not be able to dance like the kids in Fame, and it may be very hard for me to attend cultural events. But I can read and I can write so I too can create and enjoy art.

So, yes, I feel a fun kind of kinship with Mrs. Sherwood. Heck, we're even wearing the same shirt!

Like her, I know that being a teacher is not a bed of roses. It's not always about opening young minds, keen to learn and grow through the wonders of literature. Sometimes it's more like leading a horse to water and watching it refuse to drink.

Sometimes, it's just about marking, marking, marking, till my eyes spin and my heart sinks. Did they even listen in class? Did they even study grammar in high school? Did they even read the materials? 

Is it time for a martini yet?

There is, I think, a universal expression on the face of an English teacher burned out on marking essays. You see it, on Mrs. Sherwood's face? You see it on mine?

But nothing, not even a class of indifferent or hostile students, will rob me of my belief in the power and importance of the written word. And there are times, in every course I teach, when I can feel a genuine spark of interest and excitement from some of my students. Not all of them, but some. 

They are what it's all about.

(I'm a stealth proselytizer about the joys of reading so I'm hooking this to Visible Mondays on the style blog, Not Dead Yet.)

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