Crossing Over: Teaching Meaning-Centered Secondary English Language Arts

By Harold M. Foster | Go to book overview

chapter THIRTEEN
Remaining Vital in the Classroom

Introduction

In David Copperfield, Emily in many ways was luckier than most of the other characters. That is hard to believe considering the shame of her past experience with David's despicable friend. And it is even harder to believe considering she felt it necessary to exile herself to Australia, in the 19th century a trip so long to a place so isolated that it would be impossible for the modern person to identify with the hardships involved.

So what makes her so lucky? Although she felt disgraced, on the trip to Australia she spent her time serving others.

But theer was some poor folks aboard as had illness among 'em, and she took care of them, and theer was the children in our company, and she took care of them, and so she got to be busy, and to be doing good, and that helped her.

Through that service, as Dickens shows, Emily maintained a calm, a sense of completeness, a lack of angst or visible anger. Because of her service, Emily was able to live with herself, face herself in the mirror every morning, and sleep at night. Despite her disgrace, in modern terms, she was centered by her good works.

I often think of this passage in David Copperfield when I try to understand what draws people to teaching. I am convinced Dickens was right: Those who serve are in turn served. No matter how selfish, materialistic, or self-serving the world becomes, the kinder, more empathetic among us will seek the helping professions, including teaching.

Undergraduates, of course, come to teaching, but so do graduates and professionals—lawyers, engineers, business people. Nothing discourages them—low salaries, lack of job opportunities. They tell stories of why they came.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, but I was discouraged by parents and friends.” “A business career wasn't for me. I couldn't worry only about the bottom line.”

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