Your Two Favorite Educators
As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to discuss the role of letters and non-fiction in the classroom.
1. What value is there in teaching students about the language and style of correspondence?
Emily: I think you have done a great job this week providing lessons and samples that highlight the honesty that is found in physical correspondence, not just emails. Studying the language and style of the correspondence helps students recognize various ways in which emotion and personality can be conveyed through writing.
Aubrey: I do think there is an intimacy and truthfulness in letters that we rarely see in email. Maybe that’s just because it’s hard to be nostalgic for email and being nostalgic is something we like doing. Most email feels like a chore or worse a punishment.
2. How to do you go about teaching students to read annotate a letter versus a speech?
Emily: I think the key difference for students to recognize is the role of exigence in the construction of the letter itself. Unlike a speech, something precipitated a personal and intimate response. Analyzing the contextual situation of a letter is vastly different than that of a speech because of the role of intimacy. Similarly, while I use SOAPSTone with letters and speeches like you suggest this week, I think asking students to spend more time thinking about the “Audience” is important in analyzing the text.
Aubrey: We spent a lot of time talking about voice. It’s so much different in correspondence than that of a speech. I also like to have students consider the element of eavesdropping. Not only is this conversation not for them but it was never meant to be seen, heard, reproduced or annotated. Considering yourself as an “intruder” of sorts should change your interaction with the text.
3. When is the last time you received a letter? Do you save letters? If so, why?
Emily: Let’s be honest. Every teacher has a box they use to save letters they have received from students that we open up on bad days when we question our profession. I’m kind of a letter baiter. I basically force my students for whom I write college recommendation letters to write me a thank you card, most of which include really nice letters. They are so uplifting and reaffirming in a profession established around test scores and GPAs.
Aubrey: I actually have all of my student letters in a folder I’ve marked “Happy Thoughts.” Sometimes I use those letters as my “breathing exercises” when I’m really irritated with a student. I’ve also I’ve kept all of the letters my husband wrote to me in college. Now keep in mind, I demanded these letters because I believed true John Keats like love required a series of love letters. Let it not go without saying that I was romantic and demanding at the same time. What I didn’t recognize is that demanding the poetry of Keats does not necessarily mean getting the poetry of Keats. It’s a good thing that he was a patient 19 year old.
4. Do you think the art of letter writing is dead?
Emily: It isn’t dead but is certainly dying. But, as a result, the letters that are being sent are written with more care and consideration. Since letters are written sparingly I think their writing and reception are so much more special. I know I’m going to sound old by saying this, but when letters were more commonly written and received I didn’t think twice about them. Now, when I get a letter I value it so much more than I did before.
Aubrey: I honestly can’t remember the last time I received a letter. My mother sent me a birthday card and it had notes written in it but I’m not sure that technically counts as a letter. My students don’t even really know how to formulate them and I simply don’t write them. So, yes. I’m pretty sure it’s dying. I can’t decide if this is a loss but I do know that I agree with Catherine Field’s argument in The New York Times. There is something about holding a letter that breaks down the barriers that separate us and it is both rare and special to feel that way.
5. If you could receive a letter from anyone explain who would it be? What would it contain?
Emily: Hmm…this one is tough. I know it might sound silly and is impossible, but I’d love a letter from my future self. Receiving a letter from myself might be vain, but I think it would be nice to see what is in store for me.
Aubrey: Oh, crap. That sounds all philosophical and useful. I want a letter from David Sedaris telling me I’m funny and one from NBC News Anchor Brian Williams telling me that I’m important. There. I’ve said it. I want to be funny and important. Kind of like Tina Fey or Justin Timberlake.