Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Worth the Work

Written By: Anachan - Jan• 16•18

Reading should be fun!

To someone who grew up with her nose in a book, as I did, this is an obvious fact, but to the vast majority of my students, it is a foreign concept. So when I first started teaching, I realized one of my primary missions was to try to encourage the growth of this idea among my students.

One of the things I do for this is a Halloween tradition I established the first year I was assigned to teach English: reading suspenseful stories to my students. It is not an original idea; my eighth grade English teacher did it for us. It was the thrill I felt while sitting on the floor, listening to her read Edgar Allan Poe, which persuaded me that this needed to be done in my classroom, as well.

But every year, I get the reminder that I’m getting older. Things which used to be easy now make me just a little more tired, I cannot function on quite as little sleep as I used to be able to do, and somehow, my body seems to betray me just a little more.

This school year, the week before Halloween, I ended up with a mysterious allergic reaction which swelled up my face, sent me to the doctor, and necessitated a course of steroids, as well as a couple other medications. As I had never had such a thing before, I was somewhat amazed at how much the entire experience affected my mood and my energy, along with a mysterious lack of self-control toward anything which itched. I found myself tired and a bit cranky, two things which are not conducive to a happy teaching life.

Despite the issues, however, I was determined to keep to the Halloween tradition. I wore the embroidered Afghan nomad dress I had entered into the county fair a few years back, because it gave off a “gypsy vibe.” I rolled up the rug in my living room and loaded it into my car, along with my desk lamp, two saris, and a length of red gauze fabric. I pulled my fancy, gold-decorated copy of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe from the shelf in my study and packed it into my school bag. And I boxed up my set of battery-operated flickering candles. Then my daughter and I left early on Halloween morning to make it to school before even the early arrivals.

Once in the classroom, we pushed all the desks, save one, to the back of the room and pulled the chairs in front of them. We took the last desk and placed it at the front of the room, draping it with the saris, and placed a chair next to it which we draped with the red crepe fabric. The rug already in my classroom and the rug I had brought from home were placed in casually diagonal slants relative to the arrangement in the front of the room. We pulled down the blinds, turned off the lights, and put my desk lamp on the sari-draped table at the front of the room, tying the end of a sari around the stand so as to disguise it just a little. Finally, we turned on the projector and found a six-hour-long YouTube video of a flickering fireplace, with wind and thunder sounds, and projected it on the screen near the location of my crepe-draped chair. The book and a couple of printed stories laid on the table, we were ready.

The sophomores and juniors entered the room excited, knowing what was coming, and arranged themselves on the chairs or lying down on the rugs, as suited their fancies. For the freshmen, however, it was a surprise. They walked in a bit hesitantly, unsure what they should be doing, but soon found places on the rugs, tossing pillows between each other as they settled in.

The juniors, who are studying American literature and who have heard me read Edgar Allan Poe already, were treated to a story by another skilled American author: Stephen King. Last year, when my fourth daughter was taking a college literature class in high school, I learned about his story “The Man in the Black Suit,” which proved to be freaky enough that I decided it needed to be on my Halloween reading list for the juniors. This story about a young boy who has an encounter with the Devil was doubly appropriate because we had just finished studying “The Devil and Tom Walker,” a story from the Romantic era by Washington Irving.

The sophomores were treated to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the end of which brought gasps of surprise from the listeners, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” This year, unfortunately, my battery-operated candles had malfunctioned in their color-changing capability, so I had to forego changing them in accordance with the mention of the colors of the rooms in the latter story. But even so, the tale wove its spell, and the students ended shaking their heads, saying, “They couldn’t escape it.”

The freshmen had an entire class period of Edgar Allan Poe. First, I read “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a story they told me their 8th grade teacher, like mine, had read to them. “Good!” I said. “Then you’ll understand it!” Recycled or not, the story still had them leaning on the edges of their seats as the words of the madman captured their imaginations, until finally, with a shriek, he confessed to his hideous crime. The next story was one we would be studying in this class, anyway: “The Cask of Amontillado,” which required a little introduction before starting. Finally, we finished with “The Raven.” Throughout the experience, I explained that Edgar Allan Poe had been fascinated by the darker side of human nature. The pieces we read examined madness, revenge, and grief.

At the end of the day, as I began gathering up the fabrics and replacing the desks, students came up to me. “Miss, when do we get to do this again?”

I smiled at them. “Next year!”

Despite the school secretary getting irritated with me not taking roll right at the beginning of class (How could I when my computer was busy projecting a fireplace?), and despite the sheer exhaustion I felt after a full day of performance, I knew it was all worth it.

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