The following is a letter I just sent my AP English Lit teacher to help encourage her students in their studies. I thought it really resonates with every senior though, and I have been thinking about how crazy November was for applicants, so here’s one for you guys.
Dear Fellow AP English Lit Peeps,
I just want to offer a word of encouragement to you as you endeavor to finish the fall semester. Let’s just stop and realize that, crap, that was rough. If your semester was anything like mine last year, there were like 3 papers due every week. We were reading short stories like crazy, digging into those novels, and rushing past really important stuff like the Bible and Greek symbolisms. At times I felt really overwhelmed, but I will give you a few tips that helped me get through Mrs. Boyd’s class.
1) Take the advice no matter how elementary: Read the “optional” book she told you about the first day of class, How to Read Literature Like a Professor. She probably won’t mention it too much afterwards, if memory serves me right, but everything, and I mean everything on symbolism is in that puppy. I learned so much from it. I took it chapter by chapter. Actually I cheated and read the chapters on the symbolism we were looking at in class. It is absolutely vital and gets you on the same page as Mrs. Boyd and the great unknown AP people/judges
2) To Wiki or not to Wiki: Wikipedia and Sparknotes are a reader’s best friend, and a writer’s worst enemy. This one is tricky, while its important to get background on the story, author, style,etc, it can also be very limiting when you have just read some really obscure and rambling bit by someone who was most likely high and drunk when he wrote it, “Kubla Khan” anyone? So if you are going to use Wiki or sparknotes, just be sure to dig deeper. They only give you the obvious so that you can focus on digging deeper into the meaning of the text. What is the author trying to say?
3) Keep chugging along, recording your thoughts: If you don’t know what the heck the author is trying to say, write about that, it’s called style. What is the author saying about the narrator/speaker who loses his audience? Is he aloof and arrogant? Is he a bumbling idiot? Perhaps the author is using that confusion to explain something. Perhaps they are confused and they just want a buddy to share in that confusion. Remember, C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone”.
4) Focus, fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee: SO this next tip is something that I learned this semester, but I wish I would have known last year. For one hour, you belong to Gatsby. Meaning, if you have a paper due on Gatsby, then you think, breathe, eat Gatsby for that time, you analyze the heck out of it, and you don’t think about anything else, like the fact that you still have that Jane Eyre prompt and that one paper you missed last week, and finish reading your story that has been really hard to get into. Once you are done, then you ARE DONE! The worst thing you can do is start something and have it on the back burner for a week or two. That’s called looming, and there is absolutely no peace, and with no peace there is no restful sleep and guilt creeps in, and you end up being a burnt out and cranky student with absolutely no pleasure or motivation, and trust me, you need it right about now.
5) The cold, hard truth: Now that you know all these things, I would like to tell you, welcome to college. College is…hard. It is full of lots of assignments, perhaps not 3 in a week, but they are definitely there. I promise you, you will look back and be so proud of what you have done in Mrs. Boyd’s class. She is fantastic. Half the reason I loved the class so much was because I went to EVERY class connect. I called her, kmailed her, etc. I was going through so much Senior year, honestly, this class kept me sane. The selections were perfect. I laughed and cried and had a few existential melt downs, Mrs. Boyd can attest to them. (I give you permission to share any and all stories with your students). Towards the end of the year I was talking to her every day, mostly it was about life and college applications and the future and somehow we came back to Jane Eyre (if you want to get on Mrs. Boyd’s good side, ask her to tell you her favorite part about JE).
Point is, Mrs. Boyd became my friend, and though we haven’t talked as much as I did those last days, literally 3 hours every day for a week and a half as I took multiple AP Tests and she was on the line while I was writing my 3 essays, I still count her as a really good friend. No matter if you get an A or not in the class, please take advantage of Mrs. Boyd, she’s a great person.
I hope you all the best, and I know that you are all going to be FANTASTIC!
PS She approves of Librivox.org…