Sunday, June 04, 2006

ON TEACHING: "Gardens, Lacrosse, and Exams"

I spent some long hours at school yesterday, but they were like the wonderful hours we spend when we’re looking over the final fruits of months of labor. All I did was sit at my desk for about five hours, grading final exams and essays, but for me it was like wandering through a flower garden at the height of summer, enjoying the bountiful blossoms after months of planting, cultivating, and care. What I read during those hours yesterday was the work of students who have labored week after week to learn how to understand the mechanics of their language, how to read and scrutinize classic works of literature, and how to write in an orderly and graceful manner. Reading the exams and essays of my students was like appreciating the uniqueness of 41 different blossoms in a successfully blooming garden. There’s another analogy I could use. At the end of a profitable lacrosse season, a coach might spend a few hours looking at film highlights of the games, savoring the progress his players have made. Surely this process would not be a “chore” for him, just as my grading exams and essays for a few hours yesterday wasn’t. Whether you work for months to teach lacrosse or English, reviewing the results is nothing but a pleasure. It’s important to note that in both analogies – gardens and lacrosse – the most significant aspect is that the flowers and players do the work, and the same is true in education. The gardener and the coach simply provide the atmosphere and opportunity for the flowers and players to grow and mature, and, as an English teacher, all I do, so to speak, is provide good soil and enriching nutrients. If I tend my English class “garden” with care, my students will naturally become successful readers and writers because of their own innate abilities. They will flourish like flowers and be winners like lacrosse players, and then I can have the fun, as I did yesterday, of quietly being amazed by what they’ve become.

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