No more blog challenge means time to fill you in on what's going on in my classroom. In 8th grade, we've just started reading poetry. I like starting 8th graders with longer narrative poetry, to remind them that poems can tell a story, too, especially since we've just finished a NaNoWriMo unit in which they all got in touch with their inner novelists.
Today we read "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe, following yesterday's reading of "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. Both tragic love stories, giving us the perfect opportunity to talk about that emotion that drives us crazy. I try to get kids riled up when reading this passage from "Annabel Lee":
Those first three lines. Wow. Talk about relevant for teenagers no matter what era you grow up in. How many people don't feel the strength of young love, only to have it mocked or derided or ignored by older generations? I love talking about emotions with middle school kids, precisely because a lot of people don't want to go there. Teenagers are too irrational/hormonal/insert-derogatory-term-here.
I want my kids to stand up for themselves. I want them to stand up for their emotions. What right do adults have to tell them that their feelings aren't real? We don't tell people they aren't sad when they're crying. We don't tell people they don't know what pain is when they are suffering. So why, as adults, do we feel the need to mock teenagers in love and tell them that it's not love? How do we know? Yes, experience has taken many of us through various stages of love and relationships, but does that mean those early experiences don't count? That they weren't real? Then what the heck were they? What right do we have to label something as a "crush" instead of "love"? Shouldn't that be up to the person who's actually experiencing the feeling? Isn't he or she the only one with the true right to label his or her own emotions?
Often, I'm arguing with the kids at the beginning of these discussions. They've been fed the lines about teenagers being stupid and irrational so much, that they describe themselves that way: "We're too young," and, "We're too stupid." That's terrible, and it's entirely because of us adults. They learn that their feelings somehow don't matter because they don't have the experience we do. If their feelings don't matter, then what does matter? What are we teaching them about themselves? That the only people in a society who have a right to feel are adults? Bull. Teenagers have such powerful emotions, and we need to talk about them with them instead of discounting them at every opportunity.
I know a lot of my students haven't experienced love yet, but some have cut their teeth on it, and most will within the next few years. I want them to know that it matters, even if they're young and even if it doesn't last. I left my 8th grade classes today with the simple sentence, "Don't let other people tell you that your feelings don't matter just because you're young." I know this isn't the standard "analyze the poem" lesson that I probably should be teaching, but that's the beauty of teaching English. Close reading shouldn't be about making us better test-takers or students; it should be about making us better humans. Knowing that your thoughts and feelings matter will make you a better human faster than acing a test will.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.