Education Opinion

Time-Traveling Teacher

By Nancy Flanagan — November 17, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I am deep into Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63--and loving it. I was a huge Stephen King fan in my 20s, gobbling up his books like literary snack food. The writer was in his 20s, too, which probably has something to do with why I found his writing so addictively delicious. I can’t say that Stephen King enlightened me or changed my worldview. Although I recognized that his work was a long way from great literature, the books were tasty. They rang my chimes.

At some point, in the 1980s, I stopped reading Stephen King books. I just got tired of dead pets, haunted cars and general weirdness as entertainment. I thought I’d outgrown King. I found other snack-reading authors, and read plenty of award-winning literature, too. I also began to read non-fiction prodigiously, mostly about education.

Then--while visiting a friend in Bangor, Maine, I picked up a copy of King’s marvelous On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, at a funky, dusty little bookstore right out of a Stephen King novel. I had just started writing about education; the book turned up at the exact moment I needed it. You could say it rang my chimes.

The protagonist of 11/22/63 is a teacher, who time-travels back to the early 1960s in an attempt to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. (You can tell that much by looking at the book cover. I hate spoilers, and promise not to reveal any more plot details for those of you planning to pick up the book and tackle all 850 pages.) In an interview in the New York Times, King tells Errol Morris that he won’t write another novel like 11/22/63 soon, or perhaps ever--the research detail was way too much work.

King gets one thing exactly right, however: teaching.

Jake Epping, the hero (or anti-hero) steps into teaching seamlessly, after traveling back in time 50 years. Kids love him in 2011, and revere him in 1960. He knows how to teach, how to make content come alive for his students, how to value their unique voices and bring out their best. King’s ear for teachers’ lounge talk is dead accurate, and several of the good guys in the plot are educators, straight shooters who don’t shy away from a righteous battle.

Lots of things in the book are amusingly familiar--everyone smokes, for one thing. Scenes set in hospitals, where the technologies of healing are relatively primitive, remind of all the progress we’ve made in dealing with trauma to the human body.

While Jake misses things in the 60s (most notably, his cell phone and Google searches), none of them involve the classroom or instruction. There might be a reason for that.

Techies are fond of reminding us that school is one of the few institutions that would be immediately familiar to someone returning to earth after being gone for a century or more. Classrooms, black--or white--boards, desks. Someone standing in front of the room, teaching.

Maybe we’d be better off if the technologies changed. But I’m wondering if there isn’t a kind of timeless core in formal education--and if change isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, in classroom-based learning. That core would begin with the relationship between teachers and students.

One of the strongest themes of 11/22/63 is that the past resonates with the future. King calls it “harmonizing"--the intuitive prescience of understanding something before it happens, coincidences that aren’t random. We have all been here before, he says.

I was in the 7th grade when Kennedy was assassinated, and the day is burned into my memory. I saw my English teacher, Miss Alison Olding, step out into the hallway to weep in shock. I adored Miss Olding and was more horrified and frightened by her reaction than anything I saw on TV. I remember lots of what she taught me--mostly because of who she was, a real person with strong feelings.

That ringing chime? It may be a warning that newer isn’t always better, when it comes to education. Some values and practices just might be ageless.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP