• Gail Wilson Kenna

The Finest Teachers Have Foresight (prescience)

An example of this was Mr. James Hines at Fullerton High in 1960-61. This teacher was using 'peer editing' before I ever heard this term in the Bay Area Writer's project through UC/Berkekey. Mr. Hines reflected another idea that I heard discussed the summer of 1978. Students should be taught writing based on practices of writers, not on theories of academic pedants.

More than anything, I loved that Mr. Hines was an ardent storyteller, not about himself but the literary world. I remember the day he described his short flight on a puddle-jumping plane in Mississippi, when William Faulkner sat down beside him. After gaining courage to speak, he had asked, "Would you care to talk, Mr. Faulkner?" The one-word answer? "No."

Yet Mr. Hines read every novel and short story that Faulkner wrote and spoke to the famous author by marking his books. And this 'marking process' is why he had students in British Literature purchase Thomas Hardy's tenth of fourteen novels. I still have that Pocket Library edition of The Major of Casterbridge. The tiny 4 by 6 paperback cost 35 cents. Inside the book, written in pencil on otherwise blank pages, are 110 words that Mr. Hines expected his students to look up and learn. This "task" was not assigned to improve our SAT scores but to enrich and deepen our ability to read, speak, and write English.

He assigned The Mayor of Casterbridge because it had two aspects of a great novel: a human action of substance, and a hero of genuine magnitude; and we were expected to trace and to understand Michael Henchard's tragic fall.

Along with the words Mr. Hines expected us to learn, he taught us marks to use while reading the novel (and rereading it). I am studying those marks now on the book's inside cover: a provocative statement= *; all new words underlined; twice underlined words related to important points, or were words Hardy frequently used, which he wanted the reader to notice. An exclamation mark was a clue to something plot related! Two exclamations meant something of real plot and thematic importance. Any foreshadowing was to be set within {brackets}. And below each chapter's Roman numeral, we were to give the chapter a title and write a brief explanation of what happened in it. "Mark your books," Mr. Hines repeated often, this man who sat on his desk and imbued me with a love of literature and taught me to converse with an author as I read.

For years in book clubs and while teaching literature classes, it has bothered me to meet persons who cannot bring themselves to make marks in books that they own. These readers end up with a tabula rasa. Yet they seem to think it is possible to discuss a fine novel after one unmarked read. They should have had Mr. Hines for a teacher of literature in their youth, when they were "green in judgment."

Besides asking students to grade and comment on each other's essays, this astute teacher had us select British poets who were not in our British Literature textbook. Then, one by one, we would teach 'our' poet to the class. The list of poets was long and many names unfamiliar to me. I remember how Mr. Hines paused beside my desk and pointed to a name I did not know. "That's the one for you, Gail." Enamored with my teacher, I was not going to argue.

But who was Edward Fitzgerald?

Next time, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.



  • Facebook Social Icon