Sunday, June 13, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 27.1 (Homer)

The Odyssey
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
The Odyssey
Tr. Robert Fagles

Acquired as a desk copy with The Iliad, as recounted in yesterday's post. I read this translation in the class I was teaching, although I am pretty sure I used a smaller, Penguin Classics paperback version instead of this heavier, more elaborate design. In some ways I prefer that other format -- I don't especially like cover flaps on paperback books -- the always seem to get in the way. On the other hand, these look nicer on the shelves and will likely last longer than the other one. Thus, I kept this and sold that.

I recall a change that began to occur in my attitude towards my students when I was teaching that class–I stopped caring. I had been teaching in one form or another since I had graduated from college–first high school in NYC, then as a volunteer teacher in Ecuador, then as a graduate assistant and sometime teaching artist–the one constant through all of those experiences was that I cared for the students and I sympathized with the difficulties of being a young person and wanted little more than to open their eyes to literature and hopefully to see them succeed.

Something changed as I was teaching undergraduates. I tried to maintain the same kind of standards for them that I had for my high school students, which were high but not absurd. After a time, they began to wear me down. It was so difficult to find a student who cared about learning–and not just about getting a good grade–that I began to resent them for it. I felt like my job was to accept a salary to accredit their futures. Teaching them something was optional.

A student who failed or received a bad grade would come to my office in tears–despite not having shown up for the better part of a semester and having turned in almost no work–begging that I change the grade because his or her parents would be upset. By the time I got around to teaching this particular class, I could not muster even a modicum of sympathy for them, and it began to affect my teaching.

I refused to spend time reading the papers that they had barely spent any time writing. I refused to prepare thoroughly for classes I knew no one really cared about. In other words, it was time to pack it in. I suspect this happens to a lot of teachers, which is why in faculty rooms the world over you meet so many bitter, cynical people–they reached the point I have just described and could think of nothing else to do, or couldn't imagine working over the summer, or some such, and they kept going, to their and the students detriment.

Not that I consider my response heroic or anything–I felt sad about it actually, like I had lost something from which I had once taken nourishment.

from The Odyssey

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove–
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will–sing for our time too.

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