Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Sounding Fury of an English Tutor

Every time I’ve ever considered myself competent in English, someone has come along to set the record straight.

Back in high school, I took regular English instead of Honors freshman year. The kid next to me was blonde and blue eyed, just like the teacher. She asked him to look up, she called him “Son.” Being a literal child, I took this to mean there was a genetic or at least custodial relationship between the two of them. A few minutes later, I saw him write in large letters on a page of loose leaf, “I HATE YOU MOTHER….” I’ll let you fill in the blank, this is a family blog.

I said in shock, “That’s not a very nice thing to say about your mother.”
The boy, now convinced that perhaps I should have been held back further still, shook his head incredulously. “She’s not my mom.” We did not speak again the entire four years.

At college, I took my major seriously. I had learned poetry, read Shakespeare, I knew my 19th century fiction and could trace the development of the sonnet over the entire Renaissance period, I could even write sonnets, not that there was much demand for that sort of thing.

There was one author that thwarted me, Faulkner. I read the book. I reread the book. I read the cliffs. I reread the cliffs. I flunked the quiz. Zero. I had understood nothing. The teacher thought I had blown off the assignment and was just being funny, so he read my quiz aloud in class as a compliment. I didn't have the heart to tell him otherwise. After that, I avoided all literature born in the New World.

Then I entered the work force as a teacher.

My teaching assistant was at a community college and struggling with her English required course. I offered to help as a means of sealing a bond between me and her. She had to look at two poems, compare and pick the “best one.” Struggling with the criteria to pick a “best poem,” I gamely took a gander at the two choices and discussed it with my TA. We went through the pros and cons of both. I did have an opinion. I explained it. She went with it. The poem I didn't pick... the teacher described in her notes as "Faulkneresque."

The teacher said she had picked the wrong poem.

One would think I would have learned not to mess around with English classes to which I do not belong, but no, I am stubborn and remember, I wasn’t in the Honors class.

Enter my poor son. He is in Honors English. Faulkner. He read the book. He had me read the book. We discussed the book. We researched together and discussed his paper. He wrote. I make him rewrite. He wrote again. I make him rewrite again. Five days of pure English Major boot camp Faulkner Sound and Fury hell produced a beautiful paper ready for submission right under the wire.

I won’t tell you his grade but I’m now restricting my tutoring to math.


Larramie said...

For what it's worth, Faulkner convinced me to change my English major to a minor. Guess I owe him a "thank you." ;)

damon said...

No one understands Faulkner. That's why you can't argue with a teacher who doesn't either.
(although I like the boot camp idea!)

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