It’s been a long school year so far. I feel like the teachers are all waving their arms yelling “Stop! Bad Idea! Let’s talk this out before we jump into (whatever the new fad may be)” and administration, from our vice principal on up to the president of the United States, is listening to business men who have never stepped foot into a classroom since they graduated high school, never mind taught school for 30 years. But then, there are moments in my classroom when all of that falls away and we are focused and a light bulb goes on over one head, then another, then another—and I know why I love my job…
We’ve been reading Bless the Beasts and the Children in Freshperson English for the last week. It’s a crowd pleaser; I love it. It’s an obscure book from 1971, complete with references to Freud, repression, Vietnam, and beaded headbands. But it is also a classic story of a bunch of misfit boys trying to find themselves, save something they love, and becoming adults at the same time. It has great vocabulary—where else do you find the words caravansary, curio, and motley (yes, we talked about the band when that one came up..) in one book? The plot is complex in that it incorporates a series of flashbacks to previous events and the boy’s earlier history, and it does a great job of building suspense. You know they are on a mission to rescue something, but not what until chapter 12. And there was blood on their hands at the end of chapter 11, so we’re all curious.
I traditionally read chapter 12 aloud. The timeline of the book, including flashbacks, is on the board behind me and there is a gap to be filled.
“so,” I ask, “what just happened?”
“Wait,” Adam calls out. “I’m confused.” General confusion reigns.
“It’s 11 AM, same day as they left camp at 11 PM,” I fill in a blank on the timeline.
Ohhhhh,” Nancy shouts. “It’s a flashback in a flashback!”
“Now I’m really confused,” Adam sighs.
“Just think, this is why they left—to rescue…” Diana adds.
“Ohhh,” comes from Diego in the back off the room. “I get it. This was Cotton’s dream. It’s not horses.”
“That’s why they have the head.”
“So, why are buffalo important?” I ask. It’s the key to the entire story.
“They are the Wild West!” Christina chimes in.
“Like cowboys—with horses and a rifle.”
“I get it!” echoes around the room. Even the girl who has not checked out the book and has been glaring at me for weeks is swept up in the moment and looks a little sad that she does not get it, because she’s only read fifty words in the story. The class comes together in a wave of intellectual pleasure, which my Latin teacher always claimed was the best.
“I like this book,” an non-reader announces as the bell rings and they leave for the weekend. Someone else agrees.
Another notch in the belt for Bless the Beasts and the Children and a reminder to me about why I teach high school—especially ninth grade.