The Fear

One year, the Assistant Principal assigned me five freshman classes. I don’t understand freshmen; I don’t like freshmen. You need to be a mom with freshmen; I was done raising kids. I immediately charged into her office and asked her what in the world she was thinking.

She looked at me. But, I love freshmen. She looked confused. She thought she had given me a dream schedule.

Then you teach them. I think freshmen should be denied oxygen. (except, of course, for my grandchildren, but I don’t have to see them in a classroom on a daily basis.)

She looked horrified. You can’t mean that.

Oh, but I did.

She immediately switched my schedule and never assigned me another freshman class or even put any freshman classes in the vicinity of my classroom.  She was very protective of those runny nosed kids.

Instead,  I got my beloved at-risk kids, saving at least one other teacher from a fate worse than death, and a couple of college prep English II classes which can also be a lot of fun.  The challenge was to make certain the sophomores had grown up past the freshman stage of life.

I’d open the year with Robert Frost’s The Fear.  A poem. The kids groaned. 

Welcome to English II, my little lovelies.

I acted out the three pages of poetry in my best dramatic style, which admittedly left a lot to be desired. The poem, bless Frost’s heart, was set in Frost’s beloved rural New England and filled with sexual desire, an illicit love affair, betrayal, rejection — the shadow side of man that Frost was so skilled at examining.  The kids didn’t have a clue.

It was also the opening poem in the district approved textbook for English II, so it was pretty obvious that the people who recommended the text and the Board of Trustees that approved said book hadn’t read the poem or, if they had read it, didn’t understand the poem any more than my students.

Regardless, The Fear was among the best opening of school lessons I used.

After plowing through the time and setting, we got into the nitty gritty.

What do these lines mean? 

You mean you couldn’t understand his caring.
Oh, but you see he hadn’t had enough – 

She stretched up tall to overlook the (lantern) light
That hung in both hands hot against her skirt. 

The kids squirmed, looked at each other and looked at the clock, hoping against hope for an early bell.  I waited.

Come on, you know full well what Frost is talking about.

I finally put the textbook down.  Time for Opening Lecture 101.

Listen up. You want to be treated as adults, right?  You’re 15 and 16 years old.  Adult enough.  And we are going to be studying all kinds of literature this year. Adult literature about adult topics. We are going to cover love, sex, infidelity, commitment, jealousy, rage, hate, war, birth, death, grief — all the things that make the world the place we live.  I expect you to treat these subjects as adults. Got it?

As I turned around to the chalkboard, trying not to smile, I was well aware of the kids looking at each other and looking down once again at their textbook.

A young man in the back called out an answer, She’s horny and there’s no one there except her husband, but she doesn’t want him. She wants her lover who she thinks is looking for her and still wants to screw her.

Excellent. Let’s continue with the rest of the poem and see if she gets her wish.

The tenor of the room changed in that instant as the kids sat up straight and looked at one another.  I watched their sophomoric minds processing their classmate’s answer, my response and then concluding that English II might not be all that bad of a class after all.  But, more important, they all wanted to know how the poem ended.

It’s amazing what the promise of a little sex will do.

3 thoughts on “The Fear

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