Thursday, April 21, 2005

No, I Will Not Be the Next Falz

Upon learning of my interview for an English lit-teaching position, my friend Jan asked, "So, are you gonna be the next Falz?"

"Falz" is what we called Dr. Falzarano. Dr. Falzarano was a rather arrogant, Milton-loving intellectual-type, a newly minted Ph.D. from up north (Massachusetts, I think), whose first post-Ph.D. job was teaching English literature to a bunch of snotty college-prep kids in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I don't know how he landed himself in Louisiana, of all places. Was he unable to find a university teaching job? Did he have some benevolent goal of molding young teenage brains to appreciate the wonders of literature? Was he simply curious about the south (another planet if you're from New England), and so decided to seek employment there for a few culturally experimental years?

I don't know. All I know is that, for his first year of teaching in Baton Rouge, he was blessed--or perhaps cursed--with our eleventh-grade Honors English class.

We were a nice enough group, I guess. We weren't cruel, and most of us weren't outwardly arrogant, but we were aware of our intellectual superiority in the school. Many of us were in honors math classes as well, and practically all of us were already taking AP courses in some subject or another. And this was at Episcopal--the best school in the city, and among the best in the south. Our graduates went to ivy league schools, or to the top-tier schools of the south: Tulane. Emory. Vanderbilt. We were no dummies.

We weren't college kids, either, though. When Falz, who apparently had not taken any courses in education while in grad school, passed out a college-style syllabus, I proceeded to stuff it into my locker and forget about it (along with all of the other first-day handouts we got in our classes). When he failed to write the assignments on the board (which was every day, since we had a syllabus), we failed to do the assigned readings. When he gave us pop quizzes (which was often), we moaned, complained, and usually failed them, too. When he asked the quiz question, "What kind of bird did the ancient mariner wear around his neck?" we answered everything from "parrot" to "Wild Turkey 101."

What did the Ancient Mariner wear around his neck?

A fine parrot-head necklace?

Or a bottle of whiskey?

Or something else?

Poor Falz. I think he tried to teach our high-school class using the same method he'd used to teach college kids--syllabus, readings, and lectures--and most of us simply did not respond. Discipline? Maybe he'd never had to deal with that. The kids not reading the assignments? Not a problem on the college level. Angry parents? Who deals with angry parents in college? (But parents can get really angry when they're shelling out big bucks for a college-prep education ...)

Some days class went well, but some days it didn't go so smoothly for poor Falz. We weren't the most disciplined Honors English class. We laughed a lot, though--too much, probably, and usually at the wrong times. I'll never forget how, to his chagrin, we all got the giggles as we read "The Hollow Men" in class. The bleaker the poem got, the more amusing we found it, and with each couple of read-aloud lines, we exploded into a new round of uncontrollable laughter. To this day, I can't help but giggle when I read, "Here we go round the prickly pear." Eliot was ruined for us. And in Falz's English class, of all places. He was not amused.

Falz really wasn't so bad, though. He did have a sense of humor. And a few students actually liked his classes, this English-nerd blogger being one of them. When he assigned us to write about one poem or another, he'd meet with me separately to assign a much harder or longer poem to write about. And I ate it all up. That's what a nerd I was. When he told us that he carried a copy of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" with him everywhere he went, we all laughed, but I thought, "Hm ... that might actually be cool." Yes, Falz would have been a great proponent of "Poem in your Pocket Day."

It was in Falz's class that I was struck by the lightning bolt of William Blake's genius. And it was in his class, writing a paper on "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," that I first fell in love with the poetry of William Wordsworth. It was in that class that I read, for the first time, the Tintern Abbey poem--which would become my favorite in all of English literature. And Falz introduced me to the magic of Keats, to "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "To Autumn" and all the rest. So, even though the class was typically a battle of wills between teacher and students, I liked it all right.

I'm not sure how long Falz taught at Episcopal. I don't think he was there more than a few years. I don't know where he is now, or if he gave up on teaching high school. I shudder to think that he became a technical writer. Let's hope he didn't!

So, to answer Jan's question ... No, I don't think I'll be the next Falz. Hopefully, at 35, I'm a wee bit older and wiser (if not more educated) than he was in his just-out-of-grad-school twenties. And hopefully, my students (if I get the job) will have a little bit lot more patience with me than we did with Falz.

I do have a bit of the spirit of Falz in me, though. I'm a poetry nerd. Big time. I carry poems around with me everywhere. I do love Milton. And I have some sort of strange notion that I can knock an appreciation of literature into the minds and hearts of a few high school kids. Even if it means wearing parrot necklaces and letting kids laugh at prickly-pear poetry.

We'll see. But I have to get the job first.

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