The Club Med of Teaching

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by Orian Greene 
 

Some years ago, after I had facilitated my first Changing Lives Through Literature program, a friend asked me what it was like.  I told him, “It’s the Club Med of teaching.” Though it sounds jocular, this response is accurate:  CLTL involves everything I love about teaching and frees me from everything I dislike.

 

Thanks to the labors of the PO’s I have been fortunate to work with, I am spared all the grisly and nitty-gritty–though important–elements of running the program. Over the years, Dan Harrington at the Woburn Court and Judy Lawler and Debbie Cerundulo in the Chelsea Court chose probationers who committed to the program, they took attendance and followed up on absentees, they noted whether the participants were doing the reading, and they handled the only discipline problem that ever arose.  They left me free to do what I love best:  choose the literature and facilitate the discussions.

 

Each term, I agonize over what books we will read. As Bob Waxler noted in an earlier blog, deep reading is difficult and important work. Many CLTL participants have done poorly in school, some have never finished a book before, so a challenging and suitable choice is very important.

 

I work hard to develop questions that will open up the difficult parts. I attempt to facilitate—not lead—discussions that respect every opinion and interpretation. I strive to make the shyest feel comfortable enough to speak. I transcribe their in-class writing into books they take with them at graduation. I try to minimize the distance between the participants and the court personnel so that everyone at the table feels truly equal. When a probationer finds himself in a place where it is possible to disagree with a judge or PO, he gains a glimmer of self-worth that he may never have felt before.  In this, I have been aided immeasurably by the humanity and humility of the judges and PO’s with whom I have worked.   

 

drmillerlgFor me, the best part of teaching has always been the classroom itself: the interplay of different ideas, the civilized disagreements, the progression deeper and deeper into a story, the insights that take everyone in the room completely by surprise, the epiphanies, the “aha” glint in someone’s eye.  In CLTL, the probationers are there by choice, they have consented to try something new and difficult, and they are eager to succeed.  It’s the ultimate classroom.
 

Unlike the academic classroom, however, there are even greater rewards for the facilitator in the CLTL program. There is no material that has to be covered for a test, no curriculum requirement.  Yet because it starts with a particular book, each session has a built-in coherence, a gravitas that informs the discussion. Although focused on a particular reading, the participants can raise whatever ideas beguile them, and we are free to pursue them unfettered.  Connections are made between the participants’ lives and the stories, between the different stories, and between the real and the fictional worlds they have come to know.  I have never left a CLTL session without learning something new about the book, about the group, about myself. 

Who could ask for anything more?    
    


Orian Greene is Emerita Dean and Professor of Humanities at Middlesex Community College.  She has been involved with CLTL since 2001.

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6 thoughts on “The Club Med of Teaching

  1. Orian: I agree with you in many ways. I have been pleasantly surprised over the years by how CLTL serves so well as part of the great American experiment in education and democracy. At the best moments, every voice is equal around the discussion table, and we have moved beyond the limitations of judgment. We read deeply into the books and into our own lives, and we are transported. And perhaps best of all, on occasion, through the discussions we create a covenant with others, and glimpse the meaning of genuine community. Club Med, indeed.

  2. Hi Orian.

    For me, as a current graduate student, CLTL is the Club Med of classes as well.

    I majored in English as an undergraduate and remember the pressures and intensities that would come with reading and discussing literature in that setting. When reading books for class, I’d furiously underline and scribble marginalia on nearly every page, determined to note important themes, symbolism, significant quotes, etc.

    During classtime, many professors made it clear that they didn’t care whether or not we personally liked the book or could relate to it–they wanted to know what we could say about it. Each week became a competition among students as to who could pull out the most appropriate quote or passage at the opportune moment. The more outgoing personalities were always quick to speak and the more reserved students did not feel comfortable expressing themselves.

    In CLTL meetings, I quickly learned that my notes on foreshadowing, symbolism, and the like were of little use. It matters more that participants think about how the text relates to their own lives and that they find things they can like about it. Because the discussion becomes about sharing experiences, rather than showing each other up, there is more respect for the opinions and voices of others. While a few students may hesitate to speak in the first or second meetings, they quickly realize that their opinions and reactions will be valued amongst their peers and–more often than not–start speaking up.

    Looking at a text so organically and stress-free is a welcome relief from academia!

  3. Yes, Orian, I have exactly the same feeling of joy and freedom to focus only on the text and the discussion, without worrying about grades, papers, or tests — all that sometimes seems punitive in an academic setting. I am beguiled and my students are too — they are eager and happy to use their minds in the CLTL setting and they shine as I imagine they haven’t always been able to in school. It’s an exciting atmosphere to work in.

  4. This short and powerful essay is the appropriate response to the extreme cynicism that was hurled at Ron’s essay.
    Jablecki

  5. I totally agree. Pedagogy is one of the most important aspects of CLTL. Yes, it’s a classroom, but it’s a classom here peers group together with their supervisors, under the guidance of an instructor. Maybe instructor isn’t the right word. A facilitator is better.

    I wonder, though, in such a unique learning environment, are special bonds formed between some of the students and the facilitator? Do any of you have any anecdotes about special students? Have you carried on any correspondances with these individuals? I’d love to hear more about this.

    Also, I’ll be in Boston for the conference at the end of February and I would really like to interview a former program participant: have mic; will travel. If anyone could connect me I would greatly appreciate it.

    I’ve also mentioned the Fall River Juvenille CLTL program in my latest blog post and would appreciate any feedback.

    Thanks!

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