“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” ~Sir Francis Bacon
Superlatives always throw me–what is your favorite (fill-in-the-blank)?–I find it impossible to answer with one best. What is your favorite color? Purple…well, I love green, too. Blue can be amazing … you get my point. What is your favorite movie? The Quiet Man—no wait, I’ve never laughed as hard as when I watched Barefoot in the Park–but I absolutely love Andrew Davies’ Pride and Prejudice mini-series–and loved Megan Follows in Anne of Green Gables, and Glenn Close in Sarah, Plain and Tall. I struggle with favorites; however, Sir Francis Bacon’s quote is most definitely my favorite.
I will never forget the first time I saw this quote. I was mesmerized, standing in the most beautiful library in our country, the Library of Congress, and reading every quote I could find engraved on the walls of the Washington, DC building. I was in heaven–what a glorious day! I copied every quote I loved (there were quite a few), but this is the only one I remembered. It has stayed with me for years. It is what I opened every school year with whether I was teaching freshmen or seniors. To me, this quote is what teaching English is all about. I asked students to copy quotes for extra credit to start the class period–and this quote proved my point. Reading is crucial. Reading makes a full person–gives us ideas and a new perspective. Conference–talking about the reading–brings our life experiences to the table. No two people see or react to things in the same, exact way, so sharing our perspectives makes us ready for the debate of important ideas–completes us with many ways of seeings things–prepares us for life. Writing–the working out of opinions, perspectives, and ideas–makes us exact, helps us to say exactly what we mean in the best possible way (IF we work at it). I loved how high school students always paid attention during this lesson. They got it; it almost made them want to read!
It was during this time that I also told my students about a student I taught who was really smart, but never did the work required to make a good grade. He lived with his grandparents, and they paid public school taxes and private school tuition for him to have a golden opportunity to learn–and he was not making the most of it. One weekend they grounded him and took all distractions from his bedroom. He had nothing to do but read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton–a book many people hate, and one that I happen to love. He greeted me Monday morning with a smile and said, “Mrs. Kistel–this is a kick-ass book!” I have never seen a student do such a 180º turn in my life. His hand was up for every discussion question, and he had REALLY interesting things to say. It was awesome. Because of the reading, he had something to say during our “conferences,” and when he wrote, his essays were full of substance and wonderful ideas!
I “retired” from teaching this summer. I need time to babysit my first grandchild while his mother works and visit my mom who has just been put in a memory care center for Alzheimer’s. I also want to fulfill a lifelong goal of writing a novel. I have wanted to seriously write from the time I was in 5th grade and knew I would major in English. The transition is much more difficult than I thought it would be. Writing is most definitely EXACTING!! This is my first blog, and it is difficult to put myself out there–as difficult as teaching for an introvert! I know that the refining process will be good for me as I find how to express in writing exactly what I want to say.