Several years before I retired from teaching, a family approached me and asked me to tutor their child. Usually, I don’t tutor. Too often, it is about prepping for a test and is too rote for me.
After talking with the family and student, I agreed. The student was behind in some courses and wanted to be ready to transition from home schooling to attending high school full-time.
I helped her mostly in Math and Language Arts. I approach Language Arts through a cross subject method. I choose a novel and prepare a novel study. The students demonstrate comprehension, writing, grammatical, and other skills, instead of drill and kill method.
We discussed several possible choices for a novel study and decided on Elie Wiesel‘s Night, which is an autobiographical narrative of his time as a teenager in Nazi concentration camps with his family. I warned the student it was a tough read, but she insisted on the book. I asked her to read only assigned chapters and keep a journal.
The next week, she asked a question and confessed she read the whole book in one sitting. She asked if was OK to cry when doing a novel study. I said it was. We adapted and went through the book in a different way.
What I learned from that experience, is as hard as we try, as parents and teachers, there are things we cannot prepare children for in advance. This poem by Thomas E. Thornton, who was a teacher, echoed those sentiments. The poem is hard to read, but he wanted to impress upon students an appreciation for the horrors and violence of war.
I cannot teach this book. Instead,
I drop copies on their desks,
like bombs on sleeping towns,
and let them read. So do I, again.
The stench rises from the page
and chokes my throat.
The ghosts of burning babies
haunt my eyes.
And that bouncing baton,
that pointer of Death,
stabs me in the heart
as it sends his mother
to the blackening sky.
Nothing is destroyed
the laws of science say,
The millions transformed into
precious smoke ride the wind
to fill our lungs and hearts
with their cries.
No, I cannot teach this book.
I simply want the words
to burn their comfortable souls
and leave them scarred for life.