I had all kinds of high hopes for the 9th grade field trip to see Of Mice and Men I planned for my students. Sure, James Franco (playing the role of George) may have been the lure for some--OK, maybe most. And for others I realized the main attraction was lunch and games at Dave & Buster’s beforehand, not the Steinbeck drama. I’ve also been teaching high school English long enough to know that for some students just being out of school for half a day was all the incentive they needed to bring in the permission slip and the check. But deep down I just knew that this play would get to them--it had to. This was always the one book in particular that really affected my students, stayed with them years later. And if the novella had that kind of effect on them, I knew that the play would be even more poignant and would make all my planning worthwhile.
One of the buses showed up 30 minutes late, but we still made it to Dave & Buster’s with plenty of time for students to gorge themselves on a nutritious buffet of every fried food imaginable. Then the other chaperones and I managed to corral our 77 9th graders during the walk through Times Square without losing even one to the musical temptations of the Naked Cowboy. And then there was the play--the real reason we'd trekked into the city. The kids liked it--at least they seemed to like it. One of the skills any experienced teacher develops is spotting whether kids are engaged, and the students were bright-eyed and paying attention. Maybe all of my planning and hard work hadn’t been for naught. In class the next day, I wanted to know what they thought of the stage adaptation--the changes, the omissions, how seeing the play was different from reading the book. What were their reactions? “Miss Lynch, I was so excited when James Franco started taking off his shirt on stage, but then he had another one on underneath it.” Yes, I understood Hillary’s disappointment. I turned to ask Jake what he thought. “I liked it. I did. But I thought it was going to be a musical.” OK, not necessarily the life-changing reactions I had hoped for, but it least it was a memorable experience for most of them--too many shirts and too few songs notwithstanding. But leaving school a few days later I walked out with one of the students and, of course, I asked her about the play. “I cried at the end. I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean…” Yes, I thought, I know what you mean. And that was good enough for me.
-- Maureen Lynch is an English teacher at Cresskill High School in New Jersey.
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