Most English teachers I know really appreciate a good story: plot that wraps you up like a tight blanket and doesn't let you go all night. Characters that feel like your best friend or your most hated enemy. Cliffhangers that make you glad it's not your life, really.
As it turns out, I like these stories as much as the next guy, but I don't love teaching about them. I find myself much more inspired by nonfiction.
A favorite lesson revolves around this verse in "Pride" by U2 and the accompanying photo:
Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
We investigate the way art, or popular culture, reflects historical and contemporary events, bringing to life the events of that tragic day.
Another favorite activity of mine is to show students the film Malcolm X and discuss personal choices and redemption. I love the way the film chronicles Malcolm's transformations, his initial embodiment of his troubled youth and eventual rejection of his destructive habits and beliefs. Every time I watch the assassination scene I weep along with Angela Bassett. At the end, I get the opportunity to teach a little about Nelson Mandela, as he appears in the final scene of the film.
How about this story of commitment and redemption? My online students in Native American Studies spend the whole semester learning about various tribes and the resilience they've shown in the face of federal policies and individual acts aimed at assimilation and cultural erasure. Then I ask them to watch Dakota 38, a 78-minute film about men and women who make a horseback journey every year to remember the Dakotas hanged at Mankato, Minnesota. This gives an incredible opportunity to reflect on the implications of history, resilience, and the significance of cultural continuity.
So on this April 4, I'd like to celebrate my non-fiction heroes: real people inspiring us to be more, in this life.