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Fellow watching

Two years ago we were both students in an undergraduate course on Chaucer, chuckling over "The Miller's Tale" and struggling our way through "Troilus and Criseyde." Today we were on opposite sides of the desk -- he, as teacher, myself , as a visitor sitting in on one of his classes.

He is a teaching fellow at a well-known private school in New England. He teaches two English courses, one with the theme of "Myths," the other a composition class. But in addition to this, he is coaching cross-country skiing (crew in the fall and spring) and lives in a dorm with 20 students and two other teaching fellows. The job is not one, but three, as teacher, coach, and adviser/confidant.

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I was visiting the school to observe the teaching of foreign languages, but between Intermediate French and Beginning Russian, I skipped out to sit in on my friend's class.

The discussion was lively. Although the required reading for that class was Milto's poem, "Samson and Agonistes," the teacher's first question was, "How many of you watched "Oh God' last night on TV?" From here he wove the themes of the poem into the discussion of the movie, picking up bits of reading done earlier in the course, such as from the New Testament and Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn." They were grappling with the concept of man's choice between good and evil, and how the lives of various famous men have exemplified their choice.

There were papers to be returned, and it was just like one of my own English professors talking as my friend commented, "For the most part they were good. Not superlative, but adequate. Most of your shortcomings were in trying to cover too much in too little space and ending up just skating over the surface. My advice is to pick one small idea and develop it fully and with conviction."

And then he concluded, "Remember you have to persuade your reader that your point is worthy of consideration. And please check your spelling and watch your grammar. It makes a difference."

I remember our professor for Chaucer telling us this time after time. High expectations.


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