With an infectious excitement, my English Department Chair talked with me about trying something different. She’s unafraid to try something new, starting a blog with her classes, empowering her students to demonstrate understanding in mock trials and writing short stories, and using technology as if she was a digital native, not an explorer from a world of print and paper.
I’d seen her students do amazing things, rising to meet her high expectations, prompted by her friendly guidance, and rewarded by her smile and their own satisfaction in a job well done.
The something different, something new, she was talking about yesterday: Tom Sawyer.
Twain’s book, a masterpiece of wit and 1870s social observations, isn’t something on every middle school’s reading list. With current trends and a host of shiny young adult fiction to choose from, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a generation never to know Tom and Becky, and only meet Huck when they come across the politically charged sequel that bears his name.
Certainly there are some tough depictions and antiquated ways of looking of the world in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but as I listened to this gifted teacher talk about particular passages, I couldn’t picture anyone I’d trust more to help students navigate 19th century Missouri, and arrive at an appreciation of Mark Twain.
A big part of what they’ll appreciate about Twain comes from his fearlessness to innovate. Not every story in the Twain canon is a hit, but he experimented and challenged the status quo. He’s a nice reminder of the value of risk.
As I listened to some of my teacher’s plans, I was reminded of how renewing trying something different can be. Stepping off our usual path can get burrs stuck to our socks, but it can also offer the potential to see sights we haven’t seen, have experiences we otherwise wouldn’t have, and even meet people who make our lives richer.
Like Tom Sawyer.