Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Murphy’s Law (Pedagogical Corollaries)

Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Murphy’s Law (Pedagogical Corollaries)

the-once-and-future-kingWhen teachers write publicly about teaching, we usually write about the things that went well. It’s not just that we’re full of ourselves or want to save face — though we fall prey to human nature like anybody else. It’s that we like being helpful, and talking about the things that worked seems more likely to help our readers than talking about the things that didn’t. Maybe some offhand comment that accidentally turned out to be illuminating for a student will help some other student, somewhere, so off I send it into the ether.  If teachers are more visibly full of ourselves than other people are, it’s because the work we do can be utterly humbling.

Of course, some lesson plans just fall down and spit. Some things that could be done well go horribly wrong in the execution. We all have bad brain days. Only a small minority of disasters are fun or useful to read about, though. If teaching mistakes were as frequently entertaining as parenting mistakes are, you’d see a lot more sitcoms set in the faculty lounge.

Why did I make my Intro to Myth students read such very long stretches of Tolkien’s “Valaquenta,” when I myself nod off reading it? What was I thinking when I sent my minimally English-proficient Mandarin speakers off to read The Once and Future King? Why did I hector that poor creative writing student to make his dragon-riding antihero more sympathetic, when an antihero was so clearly what he wanted to write?

For every awesome thing I can’t wait to tell you guys about, there’s an equal and opposite gaffe.

Sarah Avery’s short story “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” appeared in the last print issue of Black Gate. A related novella, “The Imlen Bastard,” is slated to appear in BG‘s new online incarnation. Her contemporary fantasy novella collection, Tales from Rugosa Coven, follows the adventures of some very modern Pagans in a supernatural version of New Jersey even weirder than the one you think you know. You can keep up with her at her website, sarahavery.com, and follow her on Twitter.

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