Thursday, March 14, 2013

Oz and Onions

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" - The wizard from The Wizard of Oz

I teach literature. More than that... I (at least try to)  teach how and why we study literature.

I use the analogy of an onion with my kids, and explain that you only truly "feel" the onion when you peel back its layers ... when you reach its core - that's when your eyes water and you get that catch in your throat.

It's the same with literature... whether we are connecting  Freud's theory of the id, ego and superego to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - or comparing the dream of a better life in 1920s America (Great Gatsby) to 1950s Apartheid South Africa (Master Harold and the Boys) ... I do my best to help unravel a deceptively simple package so that my students can see the true meaning of the work - and feel its full artistic potency.

It is about this time of year that I get students telling me, with HUGE smiles on their faces, that I've ruined their lives... today was no different. One junior came bouncing up to me in the hallways and said, "Ms. Johnston - I hate you, I just saw the movie Oz The Great and Powerful and found all this symbolism in it. I can't just watch a normal movie anymore - now I see everything! My boyfriend was really annoyed." (I told her to find a smarter boyfriend.)

Over the weekend, I received two big compliments from recent graduates about my teaching strategy ... sometimes as teachers we never know if our lessons carry beyond the walls of our classroom. Like the "mighty" wizard in Oz - who was just an ordinary, little man - we all need to be reminded from time to time that just because we are minor characters in most people's lives - that doesn't negate our impact in their life story. Thank you to all my students who truly give my life and work meaning.

Instagram from one of my seniors who graduated 3 years ago

text from one of my seniors who graduated last year


  1. Sounds like you love your work - and that's just wonderful. It's so satisfying to dig into a story and pull out its bits of meaning & insight. Having just finished reading Madame Bovary, I found it overall quite boring. But what wasn't boring was the discussion that followed with a girlfriend on the themes, characters and meanings. Thank goodness for analysis! (And for teachers like you who fill us up with the ability to look beyond the words.)

  2. Thanks Catherine - it definitely takes a few months of constant groaning before my classes come around... but once they do - there is nothing better than hearing them link what we have learned in class to the world outside. I'd never want any other job in the world.

  3. That is awesome. My favorite line... "(I told her to find a smarter boyfriend.)" You should just start calling your class Life Lessons by MJ 101.

  4. Haha thanks beekay - believe it or not... my kids have used that phrase before!! Love my students.