Mission

Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sunday Coffee

This Sunday finds me feeling a little subdued; the natural disaster in Japan, and the images of the terrifying earthquakes and tsunami, makes book chat feel unseemly somehow. And now there is the threat of a nuclear meltdown, which could affect millions across the globe. It is a sobering thought.

One of my students suffered a tremendous loss last week, and Saturday morning I attended a memorial service for the father figure in my student's life. After the service I went to his home and talked with his family members, then my student walked me to my car. We've reached the point in the school year when I feel very close to my students, and when they have sorrows in their lives, I really do feel their pain. One of the elements of teaching that is probably unmeasurable is this:  teaching is about relationships. It takes weeks and even months to build the trust between students and teacher, and even the best-intentioned teacher isn't always successful at this. But in my philosophy of teaching, building relationships is the most important thing I can do. Not to say that mastery of content or skillful instruction aren't important, but it all begins with a relationship between teacher and student. This has nothing to do with test scores or benchmarks or Adequate Yearly Progress. It can't be quantified or rewarded or mandated.

The public discourse on education and teachers distresses me, and when I've had time to think about and process what I've been observing, I plan to write about it (not necessarily here). I know this distress keeps bubbling to the surface in this blog, which is not a blog about teaching, but is a blog written by a teacher.

I hope I'll find time to post some reviews next week--I have several percolating at the back of my mind. There is a backlog of books for review that is really troubling my conscience (it's easily disturbed) and I hope to chip away at that pile soon.

I'm immersed in a wonderful book of stories by Irish writer Mary Lavin right now. I'd never heard of her, but I came across a reference to her stories in a short story by Eward P. Jones. I think this is the first time I've gotten a reading suggestion from a fictional character. The book I'm reading is In a Cafe:  Selected Stories, and the stories are beautifully written, subtle, lush. The first story in the collection, "In the Middle of the Fields," begins this way:
Like a rock in the sea, she was islanded by fields, the heavy grass washing about the house, and the cattle wading in it as in water.  Even their gentle stirrings were a loss when they moved away at evening to the shelter of the woods.  A rainy day might strike a wet flash from a hay barn on the far side of the river--not even a habitation! And yet she was less lonely for him here in Meath than elsewhere.
 The main character in the story is a young widow, and Lavin effortlessly captures the loneliness of the character and etches it directly into the landscape. Lovely writing.

What are you reading now? Have you made any reading discoveries?

15 comments:

Bex said...

I'm reading Slaughterhouse Five, which i've wanted to read for the past ten years, and not been able to find a copy anywhere!then I went into my library and there was a brand new copy,just sitting there! I took it as a sign.
Also i've been re-reading some childhood favourites in the form of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books and some A.A. Milne poetry!

winstonsdad said...

I ve a terrible backlog of books at moment had been lazy on my blogging hoping catch up soon ,all the best stu

kinnareads said...

Teaching is about relationships. Thank you for saying that. I lost one of my favorite professors (from my college years) about 5 years ago and I still feel his absence quite keenly. He had grown into a father figure for me, was always encouraging me, never failing to point out my potential.

I'm slowly catching up with my backlog of reviews. This week, I finished Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai. Nice read. Have a great week despite all that is happening.

Felicia said...

I love reading your blog even more so this morning. I so agree that the relationship between teacher and student takes time to build and nurture. I find this especially true with the 2nd & 3rd graders I work with. Oddly and sadly enough not all teachers feel as we do.

I can only imagine what it meant to your student that you were there.

Robyn said...

As always, lovely Sunday thoughts. You should have a blog about teaching as well. I would read it. I teach college students, and they're so well trained at that point that it doesn't compare to what high school, middle school, and elementary school teachers do. But like you, the thing I didn't realize about teaching is the importance of relationships. That I would often have to act as counselor/therapist as much as teacher, which is especially hard for academics. I do wish we lived in a culture that valued what teachers do more.

Nymeth said...

I love your thoughts on teaching, and personally I'll be happy to read them whenever you want to share, even if this is not a teaching blog. It really is about the relationships - the teachers that have meant the most to me over the course of my education were the ones who invested in establishing that connection.

bibliophiliac said...

@Bex-Slaughterhouse Five was one of my favorite books back in high school. I also remember loving Cat's Cradle and God Bless You, Mrs. Rosewater. Hope you enjoy Vonnegut!

bibliophiliac said...

@stu--I need to make a list of my reviewing backlog to see if it is really as bad as I think...
@kinna--it is amazing the influence one person can have. We all need that one person who sees our potential.

bibliophiliac said...

@Felicia-I bet those 2nd and 3rd graders are still excited about learning! You are so right, teachers must also be nurturers. You have to build that trust, whatever the age of the student.

bibliophiliac said...

@Robyn-I've thought about having a teaching blog as well. I still haven't decided if I want to spread myself that thin. May Sarton's novel The Small Room is very much about that quandary--the role of counselor is not necessarily natural or comfortable for the academic.

bibliophiliac said...

@Nymeth-thanks for the encouraging words. Sometimes the need to write about some part of my teaching life is so urgent that I can't help myself!

TopherGL said...

I agree with Nym - I'd love to read more about teaching.

Definitely agree that teaching is about relationships.

Hope that this week goes well for you. I'm sure it'll be a tough one to get through for lots of reasons.

I'm just starting in on The Book Thief after reading a NIMH book (which was a lot of fun). Really enjoying the current one, too!

Cozy in Texas said...

Teachers are part of an extended family and have a big influence on their student's lives. I'm impressed that you have such a great presence for those students.
Ann

bibliophiliac said...

@TopherGL--thanks for stopping by. I think you'll like The Book Thief--my students universally love it...

bibliophiliac said...

@cozy in texas--sometimes I forget how important one gesture might be to a student in need...