You come back from four rich days at NCTE to find you have one full period before a mandatory sub-day (to score district writing assessments with all the other English teachers in a cold room on hard chairs with no coffee all day) then a short day before Thanksgiving vacation. On this one full day, fall's last fine days winking out in the face of coming winter, you have to introduce and frame a new novel (Siddhartha) for your AP seniors who are all totally freaked out by rising costs of California colleges and the frantic process of applying to them.
You want a good day, a day to reconnect with the kids you've missed while away.
So here is what you do: You have them identify some big questions from the Stanford Study of Purpose and tell them to meet you on the football field at the 20-yard line. They are understandably baffled. You tell them to bring pens and notebooks as well as the questions. At the 20-yard line, you tell them to array themselves on the 18 or 17 yard lines according to their age. And you tell them to imagine, as Siddhartha did, they have a long full life ahead of them (say, since you are on football field, 100 years total).
They write for awhile (see photos). Then you gather up and drive it home: ask them to take four steps backward: freshman year; step forward to the 22-yard line: that's the end of college. I ask them to follow me as I annotate my years for them: 24, back from the Peace Corps; 26 married; 30 a father, take job at Burlingame High School; 33-yard line: lose father, father-in-law, but gain second child; and we walk to the 47-yard line and look back toward that 18-yard line: all those years between us glistening on a bright late fall day. And we, myself included, are not even at the 50 yet! All that life (we pray) left to live!
Then, to make the link to Siddhartha, which looks at Buddhist ideas, I tell them there are, of the many, at least two views of life: linear and cyclical. The football field is linear: 1-100 and into the end-zone where each must decide what they believe happens. The track surrounding it is, of course, round, a cycle, representing the many cycles or lives the Buddhists believe we go through on our question for nirvana and release from the Wheel of Life.
Just enough time to walk back, hand each kid a copy of Hesse's book, and send them home to read.
Bell! What a period.
I love teaching.