Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Teaching

There are so many books that I haven't read, and yet lately I find myself rereading more and more. No need to psychoanalyze that, but I will say that I see things that I didn't see the last time I read it.

Last weekend, I was looking for a particular story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I found it in his book Welcome to the Monkey House.

I ended up reading the other stories again and when I reread "The Kid Nobody Could Handle" it struck me as a good story for teachers-in-training.

It is the story of a music teacher who has been known to reach lost students with music. George Helmholtz is not a new teacher, but he still has the enthusiasm of a rookie. He is the chair of the high school music department and, more importantly, director of the band. He tries to connect with a boy, Jim, who is new to the small town and who is a big city Chicago tough kid. He is disaffected and cruel and wants to destroy schools - literally. George always dreams that his students will be "as fine a band as there was on the face of the earth. And each year it came true."

Does he reach Jim? Read the story.

Thinking about that story and what it reminded me about teaching also made me think of another story that would be good in my anthology of teacher literature. It is a story by John Updike entitled "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth" from The Early Stories: 1953-1975. That range of years has a special significance to me and, more serendipity, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., has a story called "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow." Both story titles reference one of the most famous soliloquies in Macbeth.

The lesson for the day in Updike's English classroom is that soliloquy from the scene where we hear of Lady Macbeth's death. "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" is an episode between a young, idealistic male English teacher and a girl in his class that seems to have a crush on him. He catches her passing a note in class - a note that expresses her crush. I'm not telling you what happens in this story either, but it' another good one for the teacher-in-training (and not a bad reminder for old-timers like me).

School and teachers are often portrayed in literature or film in ways that annoy actual teachers. I took education courses, but I was probably more powerfully influenced by years of good and bad TV & movie teachers, and reading everything from Goodbye Mr. Chips to To Sir, With Love.

To those of you who teach, do you have any novels or stories to add to my anthology of literature about teachers, teaching and school? Add a comment below. Sure, you can tell us about a good film too. There will be some time for that at the end of semester.

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing."
Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)


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