Teaching Literature: A Journey, an Adventure

When I first started as a student at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), I wanted to graduate as a school teacher who taught English as a foreign language. I wanted to water the thirsty souls and be a good example. I remember how I hated it when one of my English language teachers would use ‘is’ with you or ‘are’ with he. It was painful to the heart – and ear; literally. As time passed and as I ‘moved out’ of the Engineering department after a semester of experience, my passion took another turn, not the wrong one, though. I had never read a whole book; not even school books. However, I joined the English Literature Department and that was the beginning – the beginning of my fairy tale. 

I was really good at English; I have always been really good at English. It was Allah’s blessing, a gift I had nothing to do with. I knew that once I am in the field, I must not leave except with an excellent degree. Alhamdulilah, I graduated with an A. After four long years- and a longer semester – i, so small, did it. Let me just sum the race with one word ‘Passion’. It was passion that woke me up every morning, passion that made me read every single book multiple times, passion that made me wake up when the world is asleep, and passion that made me wish – pray so hard – I teach literature.

At 11:20 pm, one of Ramadan nights, I was called. “Would you be willing to teach a literary course this summer?” I held my breath. I held it deep so the professor on the other line of the phone would hear a rational, old and responsible teacher replying with a simple, “Yes thank you,” or , “No, I am busy, but thank you”. I politely and quietly said Yes. I hung up. I said, “YES. YES. YES. A THOUSAND TIMES YES,” quoting Jane Bennet, a Pride and Prejudice character. I was first told to wait as I will be teaching one course ‘Elizabethan Literature’ and I was then asked to teach ‘Drama’ as the other teacher refused. I had only one night to prepare – that a long with a very long translation file I was working on.

Do you know that feeling of anxiety and that of happiness that can work better than caffeine?  the one that can keep you awake for days? Well, that’s what happened to me. My first literature class. The first time I imagined that class was when I was in my second year. I was dipped in the pool of language and literature that I swallowed nothing but poetry and everything literary. My first literature class. I had already rehearsed that beginning multiple times in my imagination and several times to my couches, and beds. I always knew what I wanted to say on my first day. I always knew what I wanted to do. Help the students love literature. Help them see what I saw. Love what I loved. Be filled with passion. i, very small- alhamdulilah, did.

The first question I asked my students knowing it to be true: Why do you hate literature?

Listen up ladies! We are learning literature here. You all have to fix your issues before we begin. I cannot teach you something you hate. Love it so we can make it through the course. 

I asked the students to list the reasons why they hated literature and helped them figure out ways to move on. To let go. To start over.To Love. The results, from what I saw in their eyes as the course came to an end, were miraculous. I am more than happy to have achieved, at least, one thing: they read the whole books. They loved the characters. They hated the characters. They thought. They spoke. They sparkled. I saw; in their eyes, I saw – passion. That made me  feel so grateful, that I accomplished something in my life.

I wanted to add some spice to the courses. They were going great. But they were missing something: the spirit! That was when I decided to hold a special day for both classes. With my Elizabethan group we spent the class at the university’s Central Library, my secret garden throughout my 4 years of school. The activities we held were all greatly related to Macbeth, the play we were reading.The Drama class was on the top of one of our university’s buildings (the roof). The girls were asked to make their own characters and blend with a bigger crowd creating a whole play. It was a mesmerizing day. We all had fun. We all felt what we were studying, and in my case teaching. We had breakfast together and bonded. A whole family on a journey. A whole family on an adventure – that’s how it felt.

Teaching literature taught me a lot about myself and others. Students don’t need swords against their necks, students don’t need headaches. They need a delicate touch to pierce the walls they surround their hearts with. They need someone to show them the path. To give them, not only one hand but, hands. To be by their sides. To hold them dear. To think of them great. A teacher can only convince his students that they are worthy and smart when he himself believes, strongly, that they are. All students can be great if they had someone to back them up. If they had someone to show them the way. Students are fresh soils ready for gardening. We either plant flowers or let weed take over.

And hey!

Aren’t we all some little boats looking for our harbors? Let us, as teachers, be our students’ wind; the wind and engine that drive that boat to safety. Let us stir them to their harbors and help them discover who they are – what they can be; and they WILL be.