I've written an essay that I'm having trouble with at the moment. I told a story about teaching literature to high school students, but I'm finding it rather difficult to incorporate my reasons for going to law school into the narrative. It's sort of tacked on at the end, but it really feels very weak in my opinion. I'd appreciate it if anyone had suggestions on how I could better incorporate them into the rest of my essay. Thanks.
As the final day of summer school came to a close, I stood before my class with notes clutched in hand. I had come prepared with a set of closing remarks encompassing the major themes we had covered during the past three months: argumentative essay-writing, literary analysis, the art of close reading. But when I cleared my throat, my students looked at me with a single pleading expression: Please let us out. Realizing that nobody would pay attention to my speech anyway, I reluctantly obliged.
In the ensuing months I thought about the mistakes I’d made during my first attempt at teaching English. My director had entrusted me with supervising the Eliot II course, a supplementary literature class for high school students. Having recently graduated with a B.A. in English, I felt extremely confident about imparting my passion for literature to my students. Despite my best efforts, however, hardly any of my students came back for the fall program. As I presided over a nearly empty classroom, I wondered to myself: where had I gone wrong?
To understand my mistakes, I thought about how my favorite instructors had taught me literature. During my first few years of college, my professors taught by utilizing their own critical styles. For example, in my freshman year, I was instructed by a specialist in biographical criticism who often called upon details of the author’s life to manufacture his insights. In another class, my professor relied upon psychoanalysis as her critical lens. In each of these classes, we students would inscribe notes recording our professors’ interpretations, while our actual engagement with the text was restricted to brief seminar discussions and essays. My teaching style had imitated this model.
In my senior year, however, I met a professor with a very different style. He taught us that singular “meanings” didn’t inhere within any work of literature; rather, a nearly endless range of readings shaped by each individual reader’s preconceptions existed for every text. Instead of imposing his interpretations on us, he demanded that each of us come up with our own readings every week. His class was challenging, intense, and occasionally infuriating; more than once, he humiliated me by tearing apart my arguments in front of the entire class. Yet his seminar was also the most exhilarating class I’d taken at Duke.
Going into the spring semester, I decided to emulate his style and teach an open-ended seminar. I felt nervous; since I was instructing high school students, I worried about whether I could stop the discussions from spilling over into total interpretative anarchy. But my students found the new format exciting. They had never been challenged to defend their arguments before their peers, and they loved to mock their friends’ readings. More importantly, their active engagement with the text changed the way many of them looked at literature. When my director told me that a student had discovered a passion for the classics as a result of my seminar, I felt a sense of immense self-satisfaction.
But my teaching experience had a profound impact on me as well, as it awakened my desire to go to law school. While preparing my lectures, I rediscovered the joys of close reading: the dialogue between reader and text, the hunt for fresh ambiguities, the pleasures gained from connecting seemingly disparate passages. And when I conducted my seminars, I found myself wishing for the company of intellectual peers who could challenge me in debate. As much as I love to analyze and critique literature, I realized that I want to employ my skills for a practical purpose. I believe that I have found that purpose in the study of law.