My physics teaching finished, I heard that a fellow teacher had resigned a few weeks into the first semester. Apparently, he had found his dream job with Texas Parks and Wildlife.
He had been teaching advanced American history classes, so I eagerly asked to be assigned to his courses. Unfortunately for me, another teacher had been given his history classes, and her own courses were dissolved, so there was no history to be taught.
I ended up with an assignment to teach his other course, three sections of something called Outdoor Adventure. It’s a physical education class that, although it may actually involve going outdoors at times, is mostly in the classroom learning about the activities.
The first unit, in progress, was on fishing. I have not done much of that in my life, though I’m planning to go on my first Gulf fishing expedition with my brother around Thanksgiving.
My mother was a great fisher-person, or at least spent a lot of time doing it. That she came back so often empty did not bother her, but it deterred me.
The next unit will be about camping and backpacking. I’ve done a lot of that in the deserts and mountains of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana. I’m looking forward to talking about something I love and know about. I’ll have them research outdoor gear by price and weight.
After the unit test on angling that the previous teacher had left behind, I decided the students needed a transition between fishing and camping.
I decided to buy an audiobook of Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. What I had in mind was “Big Two-Hearted River,” in which the protagonist returns from WWI wounded both physically and emotionally. He goes fishing alone in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
It’s a spare story, simply told. There are layers of significance and symbolism in it. I told the students we wouldn’t go through the story as if it were an English class, but we would pay special attention to the things Nick carries.
So I had them write down every single thing Nick carries with him on his fishing and camping excursion, from his fly rod and case to an axe and skillet and blankets and canned food, even cigarettes. I prompted them to take notes.
I’ve become a big fan of audio books both in and out of the classroom. I’ve shared Steinbeck and Tolstoy and Atwood and now Hemingway. Usually I have them listen and read along, which I believe is helpful for weaker students. Listening enhances the experience even for the best readers.
A few months back I came to the conclusion that I needed more fiction in my life. Most of what I read is non-fiction, and I’ve come to miss getting immersed in a story with a plot and a climax.
Not long ago I finished listening to William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom.” When a book is read really well by a true voice actor, it’s a pleasure to hear. Besides, I can listen while I drive around — it doesn’t depress or anger me, like the news.
My new iPhone has a built-in speaker that’s perfectly adequate if I have it beside me. I also listen to Bluetooth speakers at home and in the car.
Audio books are fairly new to me, and I thank my wife for getting me to listen to them on our long car rides.
Maybe listening to Hemingway’s story about a young fisherman a century ago will motivate young people to get themselves into the outdoors. I hope so.