I'm an English teacher. To be more exact, I teach literature. At least, the names of the courses I teach imply that this is what I do.
However, over the past few years I've found myself primarily interested in my students seeing more clearly, more fully, more deeply, more insightfully. In many ways, texts have become simply my means to this end. I spend much more time discussing characters and situations and cause and effect than I do the various literary techniques and devices I used to think of when I thought of literature. I tend to lead students into the texts presupposing an awareness of the literary devices, the elements and parts of stories.
No, I'm more interested in students seeing literary texts as a means to or a mode of knowledge. To borrow an image from Leland Ryken, I'm more interested in my students seeing texts as the windows on the world, windows to the world. Somehow through these texts we're able to plumb the depths of human experience in ways that elude us in many other academic ventures; we're able to see and experience and understand life in ways that are often beyond our perception in day to day living.
Sure, I've mentioned some of these things before, but I'm rethinking them again tonight as I read through student essays about Oedipus Rex. The essays were meant to be short discussion question responses--twelve to fifteen lines or so. Several of the students went above and beyond my expectations. More than that, they are seeing what's going on in the text and--at least a few--are able to see the connections between Oedipus's story and the stories we live in "real life." No, most of us--thankfully--don't murder our fathers and marry our mothers, but we do struggle to understand our identities and our place in this world. We do come face to face with the horrors of some of our actions and the consequences we must live with thereafter.
As I've been reading these essays, I remember that I'm a student, too. I remember that I'm still learning the very thing that I try to teach. I'm still learning to see. And though Keanu Reeves says otherwise in the movie Point Break, vision is NOT highly overrated. I need more of it.