defining love in an 8th grade english class.

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I think it is a very small contingent of people who go into secondary english education and want to teach in a middle school.  Most of us dream of opening the literary eyes of high school students–the kinds who are past the stage of their hormones being new, the kinds who are starting to think critically about the world around them and their future in it.  Before I ended up at my school, I think I applied to every high school in Manhattan, none of which were looking to hire me.  Through a friend of a friend, I rode the train to Brooklyn for the first time a week into the school year for my interview and figured teaching middle school was much better than day-temping and evening-barista-ing I’d been doing for months.  That was almost 8 years ago and every year I get reminded why 8th grade students are amazing–and this year’s reminder is, not surprisingly, rooted in the epic-reread-bookclub of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (uber-nerds see this).

Every student chooses one of five books to read with me at some point during the school year.  Last year we had so much fun in the book club that I decided it was definitely worth it to do again, even if there wasn’t a movie release to celebrate along with it.   That brings me to this week.  (I’ll be talking across some of the best plot and character moves in the series, if you haven’t read the series yet and you don’t want to ruin your life, I wouldn’t read anymore.  Then I’d go out and start reading. Anyway.)
{usually I wouldn’t pick a movie picture
for a post about a book, but I do love the
movies and I think Alan Rickman is
brilliant.  Am I right, Nora?} 
Severus Snape is barely present in person in the last book of the series, though he is all most readers are thinking about after the close of book six when he committed an act of violence that broke the heart of every reader: either Dumbledore was wrong about him all along (and at the time, the very idea of Dumbledore being wrong about anything was unthinkable) or his trust in Snape had roots in something we did not yet know as readers.  I spent a significant amount of time between finishing The Half Blood Prince in July 2005 and starting The Deathly Hallows in July 2007 repeating to myself: I trust Dumbledore.  I trust Dumbledore.  I think that reading the backstory at the end of The Deathly Hallows is one of my favorite excerpts that I’ve ever read: Snape sacrificed himself, his pride and his ideas for love.  
In our book club we starting talking about how the character of Snape redefines for the reader that love, as demonstrated in entire series, is not about what someone else can do for me or how someone else can make me feel, but self sacrifice.  I watched as these 13 year old minds began to turn this around in their minds and all of a sudden they begin to discuss the other places in the book where this is present.  The first one that came to mind was, obviously, Lily Potter sacrificing her life for Harry, which is something that gives strength and power to Harry throughout the entire series.  We discussed that our empathy for Narcissa Malfoy begins when we see her begin to doubt Voldemort out of love for her son and ultimately chooses to risk her life in betrayal at the end of the series.  And then there is sweet Dobby who sacrifices everything. 
Love means sacrifice.  Love means self-forgetfulness.  And there is nothing better than hearing this from 8th graders, believed by many to be the most self centered age group in America.  

One thought on “defining love in an 8th grade english class.

  1. Anonymous

    just to have 8th graders discuss the book reflects how good a job you do teaching them. you should be proud. We are !!!

    Dad

    Reply

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