When Students Teach the Teacher

Students DiscussionThis is more of a personal post, I guess, since I really just wanted to share something cool with all of you. But a few weeks ago when my World Literature students and I were wrapping up our discussion of Jane Eyre, I was absolutely stunned to find that none of them enjoyed the ending! Now I have always held the opinion that Jane Eyre is my favorite “classic” romance, only behind Pride and Prejudice. But they had some valid arguments, which I’ll share below (spoilers for those of you who haven’t read Jane Eyre!).

Their number one problem was with the fact that Jane ended up with Mr. Rochester! Now me, I swoon every time I read that first line of the last chapter – “Reader, I married him.” It fills me with bubbles and happiness and sunshine. But once we really started discussing it, they made some very interesting points. The one that really struck me was this: if Rochester was willing to cheat on his first wife (even if she was insane – which is not a valid reason for cheating; at least get a divorce first), who’s to say that he wouldn’t cheat on Jane? Now of course we can all say that Rochester would NEVER do that, but we can’t really determine that for sure. I mean, people say things and then screw up relationships years down the road.

Either way, I still love Jane + Rochester and will ship it even in my grave. But I thought it was the greatest thing in the world to see these students get all up in arms and offended about this book – it was one of the first times I’ve seen them take off on a debate of their own. Not only that, but they deviated from the essay prompts I had given them and wrote their own prompts to further explore the Rochester/St. John/Jane triangle. Those were the best papers I’ve ever had the pleasure to grade, and in the meantime I had my eyes opened to some new perspectives!



16 thoughts on “When Students Teach the Teacher

  1. I had to skip the middle because I do plan to read Jane Eyre… eventually, but I just wanted to say I think it’s great when this happens. I think its more common in literature classics when you have books to work with as people take different meanings from them, so often the teacher will be the one being enlightened. Glad you got to experience this Kayla, it sounds like you have smart students! πŸ™‚

    • They really are a bunch of smarties, it’s just getting them to talk about the actual book that’s the difficult part sometimes. They’re all very extroverted, and tend to find a few detours in our discussions!

  2. While I enjoyed Jane Eyre, I agree with your students: I didn’t care for the ending. I felt like Charlotte Bronte was saying, “Look girls, you have two options. There are the St. John types who are honest and moral but don’t have a speck of romance about them. Then there are the Rochesters who are exciting but may lie to you and cheat on you. Since those are your two options, go with Mr. Rochester.”

    Of course, this is an exageration and I still liked Jane Eyre. πŸ™‚

    • Hmmm definitely an interesting perspective. I never thought of it that way before! This is why I love discussing books with people – there’s no better way to learn πŸ™‚

  3. This is so cool – I would love to teach at some point, I think!
    And as for Jane + Rochester…
    He is definitely not perfect, of course, and I personally wouldn’t marry him. But it’s the COMBINATION that I love. I think Jane brings out the good in him, and is a balancing power in his life. On the other hand, I absolutely ADORE Jane and have her on my list of characters to try to emulate. Nowadays, where there are so many bleh “strong female characters” in books, Jane stands out as a truly strong woman.
    And no, I don’t think he would cheat again, because he has realized how much he needs Jane. Bertha (that was her name, right?) was a mistake, and even though the truly “upright” thing to do would be to stick with her through her madness – that’s not really Rochester-esque, is it? It’s more St. John. And that just defeats the purpose of Jane falling in love with Rochester in the first place.

    • I never thought I would want to teach, but two years ago I had the opportunity to and I fell in love! It’s challenging for sure, but it’s beyond worth it in the end.

      There it is! I wouldn’t marry him, but Jane makes Rochester better. Thank you for putting that into words πŸ™‚

  4. I wish I had been able to have group discussions about books when I was in high school. I am the only person that actually read the required reading books. I often wondered how the students wrote their essays when they hadn’t even finished reading the book. Cliffnotes, I guess.
    But I don’t think Rochy would have cheated on Jane. They’re definitely the get together stay together type.
    You ship that to the grave! πŸ˜€

    • I wish I did too 😦 That’s why I made sure to structure my classes that way. Discussion is the best way to learn literature!

      I’m sure most of my students use Cliffnotes, but what they do at home is out of my control I guess. I’m ruthless in class though. If they don’t know anything of what happened, I’ll call them out on it. And if they know what happened and participate, I get super excited! I’m sure I’m far too emotive for a “mature teacher” but I’ve found that breaking down that wall helps them and makes them more interested in at least trying the book.

      And I will for sure!!! Till death do us part πŸ˜‰

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  6. I could be wrong, but I believe prior to the 1900s, you could only divorce your wife if she was unfaithful. Since his wife was insane, he technically had no grounds for divorce. Was he wrong to trick her into bigamy? Yes. But he later realizes that and admits that when they reunite. Also, I dislike St. John. I don’t think it’s so terrible that he lacks romance, but I think the way he tries to guilt her into going to India with him is cruel and downright wrong! I love Jane Eyre and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. : )

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