I must admit my dismay when I heard that my first five days of teaching would focus on your story. I even posted on Facebook that I was halfway through The Catcher in the Rye and was more depressed than I thought you were at that point. My friend, Tim, wrote a long, impassioned response defending your creator, “my old boy J.D.” I found the post to be beautiful and said I would read it to my students. Still, I was not relishing the beginning of my Guided Practice assignment and having to work with you.
I was wrong. I am at peace with that.
The last time I read Catcher, I was fourteen years old. I remember that I struggled to relate to the story. I had never been to New York. I did not know what a prep school was. I was just learning to cuss and had never had a drink. I still thought adults were basically all right and certainly did not think they were being disingenuous. The teacher who chose the novel for her freshmen students probably made a mistake in thinking that the students could relate to the book. I know I could not, but I cannot speak for my classmates.
This time around, however, the book made more sense to me. Indeed, in my senior year of high school, the book may have resonated more with me. When I finished reading the book this time around, I cried as I commiserated with you, Holden. Then, I stepped into my role as a student teacher and finished up the novel with 80 high school seniors. I was amazed at how many students had connected with you and your story. I think you would be amazed at how much time teenagers spent thinking about you. Perhaps you might be dismayed to know that so many of them can relate to your notion that all adults are phonies…or perhaps not. Instead, you may feel validated, which is probably something you deserve to feel once in a while anyway.
At any rate, I just wanted to apologize for almost not giving you a chance. As a matter of fact, if I had not been forced to give you a chance, I may have missed a great opportunity to rediscover a great work of literature. So, I imagine I should thank my Guiding Teacher as well, and learn from this experience one important lesson: how I felt is probably how many students will feel toward choices of literature for an English class. In order for my students to be successful, I will have to create opportunities for them to establish relationships with the work and the characters. I am reminded of my favorite saying – in order for students to be successful, teachers have to start from “where the students are.”