In The Amazing Spiderman there’s a little noticed scene where Peter Parker’s English teacher tells the class she had a professor who said there were 10 plots in literature. “But,” she says. “I’m here to tell you there is only one…who am I?”
I use this concept in class every day. We discuss Man versus Self in small conversations and in big ones.
One of my students recently wrote, “Pavel is ugly,” on the chalkboard and showed me his attempt at humor.
“I’m giving you a detention,” I said.
“But I’m Pavel,” said Pavel.
“So,” I said, “You don’t think I’ll give you a detention for being mean to yourself?”
He looked at me then back at the chalkboard, his hand slowly erasing his ill received message. “Man versus Self,” he said quietly.
Our biggest struggle is always within.
I spent almost 20 years teaching haphazardly with book reports here, class sets and phonics there, whole language splattered across my day like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Then I happened across The Book Thief.
As with most books, a trusted friend said to read it and I took her up on her offer without hesitation. I didn’t even like it at first and I couldn’t even figure out who was narrating. I set it down. As readers are prone to do three weeks later I picked it back up.
Two weeks after that I was heaving with regret and bawling with grief.
At the climax of the book it was so clear to me Markus Zusak had spent years of his life dedicated to the idea books save lives yet I had had the opportunity to teach like books save lives for almost twenty years and I blown it. So many children I could have helped, but didn’t.
I was an impostor in my chosen career.
I knew books changed my life, but I had been unwilling to do what it took to help my students read books that would change their lives. I was an accomplice to my own educational malpractice.
This is the moment my journey began.