Homer’s “The Odyssey” in a high school English classroom: epic poem or epic failure? Because of all the weird sexual allusions and because sophomores, “The Odyssey” always forces me to walk the fine line between appropriate yet engaging, and when standing before a room of 25 15-year-old students, it is a daunting task to say the least.
However, with extensive planning and detailed preparation, my team teacher and I were adamant that we would make the poem come to life! Our students would love it! We would own this unit! Overzealous withenthusiasm, we jumped in head first, determined to show our students the beauty and relevance (and maybe just a little bit of the off-color humor) of Homer.
A couple of weeks into the play and we were, as the kids say, killing it! No pun intended, or at least it wasn’t, when something in the cluster of trees right outside the classroom window caught my attention. A lump half buried in the thawing snow. Not moving. Fur…Holy Dove chocolate! Was it? Could it be? A DEAD DOG?!
To say that I might be a dog lover is like saying Justin Bieber might be the next E! Hollywood True Story: there ain’t no doubt about it. When I cast my eyes upon the poor pup’s limp body lying at the base of a bare tree, my heart dropped. And then I panicked. Big time.
What if my students saw? The warm afternoon sun would surely melt the remaining snow; soon, the morbid scene would be uncovered for all to see. And if we had to deal with one more distraction during this poem, Odysseus would really never get home.
So I pulled my team teacher aside and discreetly pointed out the decaying doggy. We made “teacher eyes” at one another and mentally planned our next move.
You know “teacher eyes:” they’re similar to “parent eyes” except that instead of conveying “You are in for a world of hurt if you don’t shape up!” to your children, they say, “Let’s not incite a riot” to your colleagues.
My partner in classroom crime held the students’ attention by comparing the Sirens in the poem to the Kardashians or something, while I made a quiet phone call to my principal.
Now, in hindsight, a call to the head administrator was probably not necessary. Sure, I could’ve called the maintenance department, maybe even the secretary. But, nope. Being the calm professional that I am, I made this call:
Me, breathy and creepy: “Umm, hi. There is a dead dog–I repeat, a dead dog–right outside of my classroom window. I’m REALLY freaking out.”
Principal: “Where exactly is the dog?”
Me: “In the woods, just beyond my farthest window.”
Best Principal EVER: “I’m on it.”
I hung up the phone and made the “it’s being handled” teacher eyes at my faithful collaborator. We continued teaching and the students were none the wiser.
Our maintenance man marched past the row of windows in our classroom wearing knee-high wading boots and carrying a garbage bag and a stick. Of course the students saw him and any chance at holding their attention was completely obliterated.
“Nothing to see out there!” I semi-shrieked in a panicked sing-songy voice, using jazz hands at an attempt to get all eyes on me: “Let’s chat about how Odysseus cheated on his wife with a witch!”
The students watched as our maintenance man slowly approached the pile o’ death. He bent down to examine things more closely. To my horror, he prodded the lifeless heap of fur with the stick. He walked around it, poking at all different angles. I could feel the bile well in my throat, and the tears sting in my eyes.
He then did something so foul that I cringed and covered my mouth to muffle the audible gasp that quickly escaped: he reached down, retrieved the dead dog, and held it up for everyone to see!
There he was, clad with wading boots, garbage bag, prodding stick, and a soggy, matted pile of dead…leaves.
Turns out the dog wasn’t so much a dog as a messy mound of leftover fall foliage. Whatever. Minor detail.
A few minutes later, my classroom phone rang. It was my principal.
Principal: “How’s that dead dog situation?”
Me: “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now. I’m teaching the youth of America on the taxpayers’ dime.”
Quite fittingly, one of the running themes in “The Odyssey” is appearance vs. reality. Whether in Odyssey’s disguises or the wily ways of the Sirens and goddesses, this Greek poem serves as a reminder to question what stands before us, to determine validity and proceed with caution. Basically, take off the beer goggles and actually see what’s in front of you. Especially if it’s piled up beneath a mound of melting snow.
English teacher by trade, smack talker by nature, Stephanie Jankowski loves words, hates math and has a knack for finding the funny in everyday life. She rants over at her blog, When Crazy Meets Exhaustion.
Photo credit: Copyright:ronjoe