In the last week, I got to visit two English IV classes in two remote rural high schools in South Louisiana. My purpose was to observe the performance of the two teachers in dual credit sections of English IV where the students are earning college credit in the advanced high school courses, but once each class got underway, an uncontrollable impulse took over: I forgot my administrative identity. The teachers, the charm of the young peoples’ cute little Cajun accents, and the subject matter were too irresistible.
In the school last week, the lesson was Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” After the teacher put the kids in groups to begin a pre-writing collaborative activity for writing their own “Modest Proposal” in imitation of the master Swift, the students started raising hands for help faster than my colleague could get to them, so I rose from my observatory in the back of the class to aid the cause. I helped one young lady think through the possibilities on her cluster map. I don’t know how much good I did her in the long run, but her smile was so sincere and appreciative, perhaps surprised but pleased that the stranger in the classroom had come to her assistance.
In another rural school yesterday, the lesson topic was an introductory lecture and discussion of Lord Byron. I admired the teacher’s gift for engaging the students in lively interactive discussion, relating Lord Byron’s eccentricities to contemporary examples so well that she humanized the canonized. This class was really gregarious, that tone appropriately set by the teacher. Like the week before, I couldn’t resist becoming a participant. When the students asked her to explain debauchery, I chimed in, “Oh, here’s a synonym–debauchery is kind of like licentiousness.” And it worked–not that they knew any more what licentious meant than they understood debauchery, but I got a laugh, the teacher went on to explain, and the kids got two vocabulary words for the price of one.
I know every country school classroom doesn’t look like these. I was rubbing shoulders with select kids in select classes with select teachers. And I realize, too, that kids have a knack for responding with propriety when some officious stranger dude in a coat and tie walks in and sits in the back of the classroom. But I still think these kids and their teachers were mostly showing me who they are, what they do, and how they do it. It sure was fun, and it reminded me, the product of rural and small-town schools most of my life, that for all the drawbacks of being rural, we do have some natural advantages. I regret that these advantages are shrinking away with vanishing rural Americana. That phenomenon makes this a blog-worthy topic: Lest we forget from whence we came.