At times, successful teaching is nothing but a series of happy accidents.
Case in point: I’m closing the books on the final grades of the semester, and reviewing one of the last assignments I gave my American Literature classes: Compare Jay Gatsby from the novel The Great Gatsby to the star of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory.”
Almost every essay I’ve read about the two men has made some excellent connections between the two doomed protagonists, and presented keen insights into what made Gatsby tick, as well as what might have caused Cory to go home one calm summer night and “put a bullet through his head.” So, I know this exercise in examining the two characters has proven fruitful. I have the evidence in my hand via their writing.
I’m actually getting that warm “successful teacher” buzz just writing about the experience. Was this masterful classroom planning on my part? Perhaps. Being familiar with your curriculum is vital, yes … but even though I’ve taught “Richard Cory” before, I’ve never made the connection to Gatsby. This time, through a happy accident, the spot in the textbook where “Cory” lies fell open during the same time we were reading Gatsby. Re-reading the poem, I made the connection, and in turn, revised the daily lesson plan to see what the students would have to say.
So, a day in the classroom proved to be magnificent thanks to random chance, and while I’m feeling good about myself in presenting the poem when I did, I’m feeling ten times better about the kids.
They "got it," and that makes all the difference.