This happened years ago when I was a starting assistant professor of English, entrusted to teach a course in "Introduction to Literature," to inmates from a New York prison. The syllabus called for Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads (1798)!
When I arrived at the classroom the students were scattered all over the room, sitting on desks, chatting, even smoking. They just took a casual glance at me and went back to whatever they were doing. The more I said, "Excuse me!" "Please pay attention!" the more their noise grew. I was holding a Complete Works of William Wordsworth and panic stricken, looking out the window. Outside was the South Bronx, one of the most dilapidated, bombed out communities in New York City.
Suddenly, I noticed the street sign outside: Lennox Avenue.
I turned my face to the classroom, full of African American and Latino students. In their stony, dark faces, I suddenly saw the face of Langston Hughes and remembered his poem, "Lennox Avenue Mural."
Gathering all my courage, I shouted over the noise of the classroom:
What happens to a dream deferred
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Feeling like a cinema star and an ass, I engaged the stares of the students. They had all stopped talking. I recited a large section of the rest of the poem and ended by saying, "Gentlemen, this poem is about you!"
From that moment I became their favorite teacher.
Need I turn this episode into a concept about teaching?