Just bring the goddamn book


Bookless. Image: The Casual Carver.

Is it SO HARD?  Teachers in the lower grades take away points from students who arrive unprepared.  I hate doing it for juniors and seniors, but I might have to, just to dramatize that you cannot do the work of the class when you don’t arrive with the book. (I often give quizzes or in-class writing exercises that absolutely require the book, just to drive this point home, and I warn them, too.)  I’ve gotten used to making a big to-do around getting the book and, when it matters, the right edition or translation.  Everything is not available on the Internet.  I think it’s important to talk about texts and editions anyway, about copyright and editing and how, say, that Folger edition of Hamlet came about.  (One of my younger college teachers–this was in the heyday of New Historicism–once observed that for a lot of us in high school, “the texts came down like UFOs,” and I’ve always remembered this.)

The juniors have started The Scarlet Letter.  About three weeks ago I put a note on their assignment sheet asking them to check for the book at home and let me know by such-and-such a date if they had a different edition or were going to have trouble getting hold of the right one.  We order the Norton Critical Edition, although I think we might be able to get away with something smaller and less expensive, since we don’t use that much of the Norton.  I used to have them read “Mrs. Hutchinson,” a few of his journal entries, and some of the early reviews, but on this year’s plan we’re doing very little beyond the text.  Orsino wanted to have his students read “The Custom-House,” which I’ve usually mostly summarized for them, so mine did that, too.  (My verdict: not worth it.  Apologies to any horrified Americanists reading this.)

Anyway, the date came and went, with reminders, and everyone agreed they had the right book and would be bringing it to class.  I pointed out the excellent footnotes and warned them that they would be responsible for reading and understanding them.  Everyone promised that they would.

So, of course, we begin reading the book and two students in each class turn up the first day without the book.  I make mewling noises.  They apologize.  I say, “But you promised.”  They apologize some more.

Two of them did the reading “online.”  Using what text?  They don’t know.  Two of them didn’t do the reading.  I point out that about 60 of their classmates are reading the same damn book, and so they should borrow someone else’s and read the right text, fergawdsake.  Second best is reading “online”–Bartleby or some other complete text.  Dead last is not reading at all.

I am so sorry, college-teacher friends.  We really do try not to send you kids who don’t buy the book and don’t do the reading.  This week I printed out some large, ornate letter B’s and made the kids who arrived without the text clip the B’s to their shirts with binder clips.  Since then it’s been somewhat better.  In today’s “special case” class, only one student came without the book, but he’d done the reading, at least.


3 responses to this post.

  1. I LOVE the pinned-on B’s for students without their book! Love, love, love this.

    And “The Custom House” is not worth it. I never assign it, other than sometimes just a few pages (where he finds the cloth A in the attic and puts it on his chest) after they’ve read the novel. My goal is to have them love the novel, and that just does not happen when they start with “The Custom House.”


    • Posted by meansomething on November 10, 2014 at 3:45 am

      Thanks, WN?! I will not be teaching “The Custom-House” next time, although it’s probably a moot point for next year, as I will try to avoid teaching the Snork Maiden’s class when they are juniors. (They are a large class, however, and it may be that I’ll need to take a section to make the numbers work out, depending on other staffing issues.)


  2. Posted by Pym Fan on November 13, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    I too LOVE the pinned-on B’s!


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