I have been teaching high school English for nearly two decades. I love what I do. I still have lots of days when I watch a student get lost in a book, or watch her reaction when I hand back a paper she has revised four times as she cautiously glances down to see the A. These are the days I find myself diving into my planning book like Clark Kent would dive into a phone booth.
Still, there are days I wonder whether or not I have made some terrible mistake with teaching. There are days when my students have not completed the reading I have assigned, or when their personal lives block my access to their intellect, curiosity, or even civility. There are days when, despite doing all I can think of, I still can’t reach a kid I see struggling. These are the days I sometimes wonder if I am wasting my time wading through teenage angst and apathy, fighting a fight that cannot be won.
As an English teacher, I often turn to words on those days. I revisit books that reaffirm my faith in what I am doing and in my students as harbingers of hope. I arm myself with phrases and books that I can offer to my students. I want to show them that they are not the only ones who have felt that way, and give proof that it does and will get better.
One of my favorite books to quote is The Humans by Matt Haig. This is one of those rare books you cancel social plans to keep reading in your favorite chair. The narrator is an alien who takes over a human’s body. The result is a remarkably fresh perspective on what it means to be human, the complexities of human relationships, and the wonder embedded in the daily grind. The book refocused my view of my students, emphasizing the importance of viewing them beyond the curricular concerns in the confines of the classroom.
Every human should read this book. Certainly every teacher. It is filled with quotes that reinvigorate your teaching and also challenge and encourage your students. Here are 10 of my favorite quotes from The Humans, and how they can be applied to many different scenarios.
To all students:
“Make sure, as often as possible, you are doing something you’d be happy to die doing.”
To the kid struggling to fit in:
“No one will understand you. It is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.”
To the kid who has gone beyond struggling to feeling no one likes him:
“It’s not you. It’s them. (No, really. It is.)”
To the kid whose parents keep telling them they must be a doctor/lawyer/hedge fund manager:
“A paradox: The things you don’t need to live—books, art, cinema…and so on—are the things you need to live.”
To the kid who just said something mean about another kid:
“If you think something is ugly, look harder. Ugliness is just a failure of seeing.”
To the kid who spends his day apathetically thumbing through social media:
“To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilization advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunize yourself with art. And love.”
To the kid who is mired down by some recent failure:
“The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.”
For the kid who feels sick each time someone asks her what she wants to be when she grows up, or what she will major in:
“You don’t have to be an academic. You don’t have to be anything. Don’t force it. Feel your way, and don’t stop feeling your way until something fits. Maybe nothing will. Maybe you are a road, not a destination. That is fine. Be a road. But make sure it’s one with something to look at out of the window.”
For the kid who has something to say, but does not know how to say it:
“Beauty breeds beauty, truth triggers truth. The cure for writer’s block is therefore to read.”
To all students:
“Obey your head. Obey your heart. Obey your gut. In fact, obey everything except commands.”