10 Qualities of Literature Teacher Must Adopt

Qualities of Literature Teacher Must Adopt.First and foremost, I should say, he must be a lover of literature. The initial objection here may be that not everyone can love literature. This I should immediately acknowledge, just as I would admit that not everyone can love cats, accounting, or the binomial theorem; but that is just another way of saying that not everyone should be given the privilege of teaching literature, and to me it is a great privilege. Within limits, love of literature can be taught; at least students can be encouraged to develop it. Love of literature usually grows from ex- perience with literature, from understanding, and from what we rather vaguely call appreciation. This is not easy to teach. Teaching students the names of Shakespeare’s plays and the birth and death dates of the author is much easier for both the teacher and the taught than teaching the subtlety and pervading tragedy of Hamlet True love of literature, like true love of anything, can be taught only indirectly.

The direct approach, “Isn’t it beautiful?” is not more likely to inculcate love of literature than the commensurate question, **Why don’t you be good?” is likely to instil moral virtue. Fortunately, love of art and language is infectious. It can be taught, to those who are teachable, if we keep firmly before us the conviction that we are teaching the love of literature, not the secondary facts about literature. For example, if we are endeavoring to teach love of liteiature, very wide reading in literature is likely to do more good than any amount of reading about literature. Second, I should say that a good teacher of literature must be able to read. Here I am thinking of several sorts of reading. Presumably a teacher of literature should be able to read rapidly in order to read widely, but, even more important, he must be able to read accurately, with perception and penetration. Many pro- fessed teachers of literature cannot read at all in this sense; they cannot penetrate to what an adult writer is saying overtly, not to mention sensing what a poet endeavors to reveal.

A teacher of literature should be able to read orally, and the younger the students the more important oral reading is. Most students at any level can sense literature only if it is read well to them, and this is true particularly of poetry and drama; but it is also true, although to a lesser degree, of truly great passages of prose, either fiction or nonfiction. Of course a teacher can get some help here; we now have many records of modern poets reading their own ,works and of skilled interpreters reading the classics. We can scarcely expect that all English teachers will be able to read Chaucer with ease and comfort, but if they cannot they had best play records. Chaucer wrote mellif- luous poetry, and to read him as though he was a labor, even a labor of love, is scarcely a service to anyone. Teachers can profit from better readers than they and from readers who have special qualifications for certain sorts of reading, the reading of plays for example through a number of voices, but all the audio de- vices in the world will not make a good teacher of literature.

The good teacher of literature should have had experience with his subject as a creator. That is, he should have tried to write, and the more different sorts of writing re has tried the better. I am not here saying that a good teacher of literature must be a good novelist or poet or playwright. No doubt that would help, but there are many good teachers who could never be good practicing literary artists and many good writers who would be bad teachers. But to under- stand the written word the teacher must understand writing, and to understand writing he must have faced blank paper and have wrestled with it. Pretty ob- viously, having children helps women to become good mothers, and every teacher knows that no number of courses in pedagogy can entirely replace classroom experience. To know writing one must try to wri!:e, however bad the result; every teacher of literature needs it for his own well-rounded approach to his job.

He needs it, also, because students should attempt creative writing, however mept the products, and at a minimum a teacher should have seriously tried what he endeavors to teach. A good teacher of literature has other skills and virtues, but partly in the interests of space I shall mention only the most important of these, and relatively lightly. A good teacher should be able to explicate; he should be literate enough so that he can help students formulate their own thoughts by joining the students in the process of clarifying emergent ideas. Thus training in the principles and practice of criticism is important for teachers of literature, particularly if, in learning to explicate, the teacher learns to restrain his practice of it.

Talking about literature, even about literary art, should never displace, as it often does, the experience of literature itself. In a sense which Fhakespeare probably never intended, the play’s the thing, and so is the novel or the /iOem. The good tJiacher of literature should be so well informed that he can branch out from any given work or body of literature to other related pieces. The knowledge of works as different as James Joyce’s Ulysses and the Old Norse Saga of Burnt Njal can both contribute to the teaching of a short story like Hemingway’s Ten Indians. A teacher of literature should be able, almost spontaneously, to suggest that there is no end to what Keats called ‘the realms of gold,” that no matter how far the student goes, good things will always rise before him.

The teacher of literature should have experienced language, which is at once his tool and the tool of those who wrote what he professes. Personally, I do not see how anyone who loves either language or literature can be indifferent to the other; but, if the teacher does not find language exciting, at least he can know something about it and be able to use it. He should, for example, be able to write a paragraph, and too few teachers can. He should have a working knowledge of at least one foreign language; for these purposes languages closely linked to English, like French and Latin, have advantages, but tongues that are not even descended from Indo-European, like Chinese and Menominee, also have their uses.

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