There used to be nothing so annoying as the dreaded “Summer Reading List” my former English teachers used to put me through on an annual basis.  “Why?”  I would ask myself every time.  “Why would they makes us read these books?”  I would get the list and sift through its contents, saddened by the lack of legitimate content.  And then I would return to my scheduled reading.  Something along the lines of goodness knows what.  All I positively knew for a fact at the time was that I was reading literature, and what school was asking me to do was read junk.  I mean, maybe the junk was classical literature, or maybe it was really, really, good.  But it was forced.  It was cruel.  It was: You have no option in what you will be reading this entire summer because we will assign you so many books you won’t be able to do anything other than read the books we assign.  And then I get all resentful, and mad, and I don’t do the reading for two and a half months, and all of a sudden school’s starting, and Smash! Bang! Boom! I have to read three novels, write out 3 reports, design a new book cover (that assignment for the artsy kids, AKA not me), do character webs–whatever those are, and graphic organizers, create a 12 foot in radius stained glass rose window depicting all of the action of one book, cure the AIDS epidemic in Africa after all the knowledge you’ve gained from the summer reading experience, make a costume in honor of one of the main characters (using descriptive clues from the book!) and recite a speech or monologue from the book, save an orphanage of poor starving Indian children as inspired by one of your favorite characters from the books you read this summer, cook a five course meal representative of one of the cultures in the books we read for summer and make sure it’s ready for the first day of class with portions big enough for everyone to get some, and then you must make a map of one of the main character’s journey, change any chapter from any book into a scene from a play, and then please also write a 50 page research paper on the Freudian symbolism inherent in To Kill a Mockingbird.  That’s all.  That I can do before breakfast, in between erecting a to scale size copy of the Colossus of Rhodes in Cuba, and (on special order, not for the  Queen of Hearts to know) painting all of the roses red.

But…

Now that I am on the flip side of it I can’t stop myself from thinking along the following lines: “What can I do to make sure that the students pay attention to the descriptive details?  I know!  I’ll make them have to make a costume just like one of the outfits so vividly described in the book and then they’ll recite some lines said by the character they choose!  It fits perfectly.  It lets the students choose which character they want to be or admire, and it lets them choose their favorite part of the book, and what to say.  It really appeals to different modalities, and allows the students who like to be the center of attention the spotlight for a little while.  It fits perfectly!  And then for the rest of the students I’ll make them write a 50 page paper.  Those types of students love writing, right? Am I right?  I’m so right.”  I’ve fallen into the trap of making bad options for students with different learning styles.  And I’ve also fallen into the trap of being the lame teacher who accepts either really meticulous assignments or really froofy assignments, both with which are on opposite ends of the some spectrum summer reading assignments.

So wait?  Where was this assignment going in the first place?  Oh right.  So, to prepare myself for the year, I’ve been reading, yes actually reading, the reading for the upcoming semester.  I figure I’ll tackle Shakespeare and Homer over Christmas Break.  For now I’ve been dealing with Lee, Poe, Bradbury and more Bradbury.  Thank goodness I love Ray Bradbury–he is a really, really talented author, and surprisingly difficult to find in used book stores here in Philadelphia.  I’m also bad at finding used bookstores.  Tried to visit two the other day and one didn’t exist any more, and the other was “CLOSED — indefinitely permanently  …maybe.”  So maybe I’ll just stick to Amazon.com for all of my publishing needs.  Who knows.  But yeah, I’ve been partaking in summer reading and I have to conclude publicly that To Kill a Mockingbird is indeed a really, really, really good book.  Alright.  That moment’s over.  Good.  Got that out.  Moving on.  To other things.  Quickly.

TFA has quickly become a much smaller entity than I thought it would be.  I feel a little sad about that, although I am wholly appreciative of my school, my department, and the support they are giving me.  If TFA continues in its meaningful, useful, and encouraging support, I don’t think I could have any worse start to a year than any first teacher could have anywhere.  I feel very lucky sometimes.

I think if I were to assign a summer reading project it would be: make a movie out of a book.  Oh yeah?  Can’t do a very good job, eh?  So quit complaining about all the other movies where “they didn’t do a good job,” or “the book was so much better,” or “they just left too much stuff out” and consider yourself wiser for the experience.  Jerk.

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