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edu180atl: katie hartsock 12.12.11

I learned (again) today that answering the question “why?” remains a vital task in education. As an educator and parent, I wrestle to conjure brilliant, intentional responses daily. Dropping my son off this morning, I accidentally closed his tiny fingers in the car door. Through tears, he cried, “Why, Mommy?” My answer was an apology and flurries of kisses. I hoped it was enough.

Later, as my world literature class prepared for midterms, one student bemoaned flatly that he didn’t want to review a text he didn’t like the first time around—whether Antigone or Siddhartha, I can’t recall.  My heart sank. I flushed, angry and wounded. His real question was, “why do we have to read at all?” I know students don’t have to love the literature I teach… but, man, I wish they did. I explain why we read what we read, why we write what we write, and how reading will equip them to become innovative communicators and thinkers. Still, my authentic answer to the deeper why when it comes to English class betrays my old school soul, perhaps a relic.

Why? Because I want students to fall recklessly, madly in love with reading as I did thanks to my mother and Hamlet and Ellen Gilchrist and Rumi and Plath. Because I wish for them the palpable solace of curling up with a long-awaited book, an actual book with—yes!—paper pages, bound spine, and unfathomable characters. Books teach. And I hope that it’s enough.

About the Author: Katie Fesuk Hartsock teaches English at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Her poems have been published in Five Points and Poet Lore, among others, and she loves books and teaching creative writing.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a beautiful reflection, Katie, and an essential reminder to all of us about the importance of PASSION in education. Before reading your post, I had just finished the first chapter of The Lightening Thief (the first book in the Percy Jackson series). I’m not a fantasy fanatic (unlike most of our 5th/6th graders at Trinity), and to be honest, I often *wonder why* some students get so entranced by the fantasy genre. In the first chapter, the lines below stood out to me as I was reading — and then as I read your post, a connection formed. Students want to know that teachers have passions. Students want to connect with one another and with their teachers through shared experiences, shared loves/likes, or even shared dislikes. Certainly, your passion for books, English, and poetry is conveyed to your students — both formally and informally. And in my opinion, as long as they keep wondering why their teachers recklessly love certain things or why they like/dislike/love/hate certain things, they are in for a long journey of learning. One that’s active and not passive. One that will lead to adopting passions of their own.

    Here’s the bit in LT/PJ that resonated re: passions and connections: “I mean, sure, it was kinda cool on tournament days when he dressed up in a suit of Roman armor and shouted “What, ho!” and challenged us, sword-point against chalk, to run to the board and name every Greek and Roman person who ever lived, and their mother, and what god they worshipped. But Mr. Brunner expected me to be as good as everybody else, despite the fact that I have dyslexia and attention deficit disorder and have never made above a C- in my life. No–he didn’t just expect me to be as good; he expected me to be BETTER.”

    This passage AND your post — both of which I read today — reminded me of why we’re so engaged in this education thing. Inspiring takes effort. And it’s worth every bit of it.

    December 12, 2011
  2. Stephen G. Kennedy #

    I love your post, and as an old — both aged and former — English teacher myself, I truly sympathize and empathize with your sentiment, your frustration, your passion. (And having also slammed the door on a small child’s fingers, I really felt that one, too!)

    But let me offer another, perhaps slightly cynical perspective: “We can’t win ’em all.” If an English teacher can’t sway a student to love reading – think: might that student be a math fanatic? Or a scientist in the making? Maybe he or she just hasn’t caught fire in any area yet, but will some day. Or in some instances — I think in desperate moments — there are indeed a few individuals who may remain without passion and fire, and who will fill the jobs that require tedium and monotony to survive.

    I fear there is sometimes something about school itself that can diminish passion among our students. Sitting in a hard desk-seat, then moving from subject to subject, worrying over pop quizzes and dull pencils and acne and homework loads and GPAs and the latest rejection from a cute girl and car insurance and…well, I recall myself the anxiety over not catching fire when my junior English teacher attempted to share her ecstasy over “Moby Dick.”

    Nonetheless, there is poetry and enthusiasm and love and zeal in your writing. And I know your students sense that when you teach. And you can’t expect them all to display that to you. Teaching does not equal learning — all that is a random and inexplicable formula we’re not privvy to. You enter that process with good intent and faith — knowing that at some point, each of the students you’ve encountered will learn what they need from you. Never lose heart — it’s all more than worth it!

    December 12, 2011
    • Karen Patton #

      Stephen – you nailed it exactly! I taught everything from the littlest preschoolers to World Lit. for seniors, and you can only do your best to show them that learning is exciting, and that there are many ways to catch the passion. Some kids won’t get it ever, but the ones that do let you know in their own ways and that makes it all worthwhile!
      Thanks, Katie, for putting yourself out there as many of us have done who are passionate about our subjects, our students, and our vocation.

      December 12, 2011
    • >perhaps slightly cynical perspective

      Stephen, that’s not cynicism, that’s common sense! Thanks for injecting it. I find that to be a refreshing change in a sea of (sometimes) hopeless romanticism and naivety.

      As for ‘worrying’ about homework, GPA’s and pop-quizzes, that discipline and pressure is an INCREDIBLY valuable lesson for kids.

      December 12, 2011
  3. Elissa #

    And this is why you’re an amazing teacher!

    December 12, 2011
  4. Katie – reading your comments would lead me to believe that you and I are VERY different educators. That’s fine. My hope is that I (and my philosophy) will continue to be valued as much as you and yours.

    December 12, 2011
  5. Allison Toller #

    Further evidence of how truly fortunate we are to have you at Mount Vernon! Katie, thank you for sharing your gifts and passion with us…and while your students may not always share the same excitement about reading as you do–have faith that they will remember YOU and the experiences you shared in the classroom.

    December 13, 2011

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