Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Tom Sawyer.

Posted on November 28, 2010Filed Under Teaching, Tom Sawyer | Leave a Comment

I was thinking of not even teaching Tom Sawyer this year. It’s not in the “approved” reading list for the state, and our district head of curriculum wants to see it gone. It’s been getting tougher every year to get the kids through it, and a growing percentage just don’t. And right now the only reason I was thinking about Tom Sawyer at all was because it’s Sunday after another long weekend, and Mark Twain’s description of Tom’s attitude on Mondays captures my current feelings perfectly:

“He generally began that day with wishing he had had no intervening holiday, it made the going into captivity and fetters again so much more odious.”

I had a two-day week, then a regular week, and then another two-day week. That means twelve days off out of twenty-one. I’m getting mighty lazy. I’ve spent more time working on my Christmas Parade bike float than thinking about school.

But after that first quote, I got to thinking. (I know; dangerous…) Here’s Huck talking to Tom about how much he hates being rich, and wants Tom to take his share of the money, but maybe…

“…gimme a ten-center sometimes — not many times becuz I don’t give a dern for a thing ‘thout it’s tollable hard to git…”

As I have posted before, this is good advice for dealing with middle schoolers. They SAY they want things easy, but their biggest fear is boredom, not challenge. But a key part of Huck’s quote is the word “tollable.” That’s really the word tolerable. Which for us means giving them a challenge,without making things too discouragingly difficult.

So some good advice about that comes from MT’s narrator persona early in the book. At the end of the most famous scene of all, MT says…

“If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Make it look like play. This advice also applies to us as teachers, trying to stay fresh and keep from going through the motions. I thought of this the other day after I had this conversation with one of my li’l darlings:

“How long have you been teaching?”

“About 20-something years.”

(wide-eyed) “That’s a long time.”

“Uh huh. But I like it.”

“Don’t you get sick of us?”

“Not yet. Although when ‘Jake’ asked how to spell VCR, I got a little exasperated.”

“What’s that mean?”

(sigh)

Another bit of  advice for middle school teachers comes in chapter five. This is the chapter devoted to Tom entertaining himself in church. After the pinch bug and the poodle have pretty much broken up the mass, Mark Twain writes,

“Tom Sawyer went home quite cheerful, thinking to himself that there was some satisfaction about divine service when there was a bit of variety in it.”

Always make sure your “divine service” has some variety, or the kids will create it for themselves.

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