What to read during a teaching year like no other

It’s really been a teaching year like no other, and that definitely has been part of my blogging problem of late. I’m simply tired. You know, like the rest of you. 

But I often am tired through winter and spring. In order to maintain my writing time and give my students what they deserve, my focus becomes very narrow. Write. Teach. Read. Spend time with family. Exercise and get outside.

But now my grades are in for my undergraduates. My MFA students and my middle and high school students are just about to finish up their semesters. I went for a walk today and photographed some trilliums. So I suppose I have time to write about teaching.

© LWM

Like many writers and teachers, I’ve been reading A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders, which might be helpful to anyone trying to learn to teach themselves from what they read. He writes his thoughts on a number of stories by classic Russian authors. The texts of the stories are also included in this book. Saunders knows these stories very well because he’s read and taught them many times. But that is one of the lessons to be learned from his book–a first read is just an initial encounter with a story. Sometimes that’s all we want, but to really understand a story, to make sense of its many elements, we have to read it more than once.

I sometimes think of the first read as the what-happens-next read. I’m just reading for the pleasure of finding out what happens. I confess that I can be a bit of a skimmer. I read very quickly.

The second read is usually a slower read. I take notes on paper or in my head. I notice how beginning relates to ending. I notice the progressions of characters’ behaviors, and where important shifts occur in the story. I notice patterns of images.

Saunders discusses all this for each story he’s included in the book, and there’s a lot a writer can learn from the discussions he includes. His voice also is enjoyable. It’s humorous, and Saunders shares a generous vision, a love of flawed people, of stars and final moments and the beauty of strangers.

At this point in our second pandemic year, I need some reminders to protect the generous vision of what this world is and could be. 

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