So a few years ago, one of my more nerdilicious students (I love nerdilicious students because I am a bit nerdilicious myself), Jean*, came up to me and queried, “Do you read fantasy books?” I fumbled for an appropriate answer, because my real answer was a resounding “NO!” However, because Jean was a student of mine, and I had been trying without much success to bring her out of her shell, I ventured honestly if gently, “Well, I’ve never really read that much fantasy.”
On the spot, she did what I knew (and dreaded) she was going to do. She proposed a book. Not only that, she had said book in her hand. It was her copy. She wanted to lend it to me. The situation unfolded in slow motion. The enthusiastic hand-over from her part, my arm dropping at the heft of a 700 page whopper with dragons on the front cover. My mind whirled as I eeked out a smile. I mentally grumbled, “Got papers to read. Gotta grade. Gotta have a life too. Didn’t even ask what I’m already reading. Hmmmm, can I spark note this?”
I pretty quickly figured out that sparknotes wasn’t going to cut it. Every day, this once sullen and taciturn young lady came up to me bubbling over, asking me questions about the story. “Did I like the book? Who was my favorite character? What part had I reached in my reading? Could I believe that twist?”
I fancy myself a pretty fast reader, and I will say with honesty that it took me two weeks to read this book, initially because I put off picking it up. After a week of incessant and hopeful questions, I couldn’t bear to let Jean down. Apparently she had high expectations for me as a reading partner.
The first weekend I resolved to read, I sat down at three in the afternoon on a Saturday and did not lift my head until I turned the last page. “Oh my gosh,” I mused with a self-depricating irony, “I loved this book. I can’t believe I loved this book.”
That Monday I returned to school, tome in hand, proudly declaring my enthusiasms for the story. Expecting that to be the that, I passed back the novel, murmuring the appropriate thanks, still a little relieved to be returning the genre to it’s rightful owner. As if she were a genie, Jean whipped out volume two. It was longer. As much as I liked the first one, I couldn’t say that I had planned to pick up the sequel. But there I was. Locked in by student expectations (sometimes our students expect more from us than we do from them, eh?). As she passed me volume 2, Jean smiled, flashing her braces and crooned, “the second one is even better.”
Resolutely I sat down with the text that weekend. I read it. All 800 pages. Small, small, small print. And I loved it. But I hated to admit it. How could I like fantasy books? I don’t like dragons or knights or quests? Do I?
Had graduation not come around, I am convinced that I would have been reading this series (a series of 15 novels as luck would have it) every weekend for the rest of my life. But graduation did come around, and so I gave Jean a hug after graduation, and promptly forgot all about the fantasy genre.
Two years passed.
Yesterday, I was picking through the library, searching for another non-fiction text that I hoped might help me improve my teaching, when a fleeting thought of Jean popped in my head. I smiled a little and meandered with fond reminiscence over to the science fiction part of the library shelves.
I searched for the author’s last name. Only one book in my location. Book 14. The second to last book in Jean’s series. I started it yesterday, and I’m now halfway through. I’ve enjoyed each chapter, and I plan to request the last book through inter library loan. That way I can finish what Jean started, even if I’m a day late and a few books short.
If I were going to pick a moral of this story, I’d say it would be this: very often as teachers we get stuck in ruts. Stuck in ways we like to do things, stuck in ways we grade, activities we organize, roles we play in the classroom. As masters of our own little universe 40 hours a week, we can get a little too wrapped up in ourselves and “our way.” Perhaps it is not such a bad idea every once in a while to have someone push a new idea on us. I was bound and determined not to enjoy the fantasy series suggested by Jean, but her prodding has enriched my life and my reading, all because I eventually decided to try something new for the sake of my student.
*Names have been changed.