Thursday, June 15, 2006

ON TEACHING: "Thoroughness and Thrills"

I first wrote the following almost a year ago, back in August as I was planning the upcoming school year. I re-read it recently and realized I did not follow my own advice this year. I was definitely not a thorough teacher. Hopefully next year will be different.

Since one of my major goals this year is to be a totally thorough teacher, it was interesting to discover recently that the word “thorough” derives from the same root that gives us the word “thrill”. The original meaning of “thorough” was “from end to end”, and “thrill” originally was connected to the idea of being “pierced”. In the early days of our language, if you were pierced by something, it would go through you literally “from end to end”, and medieval folks, I suppose, would have spoken of it as a “thrilling” experience. We even get a hint of the word “thrill” in the sound of the word “thorough”, as though wherever you find thoroughness (or piercingness), you will find a thrill, and vice versa. It’s wonderful to realize, from this, that being a thorough teacher might be the best way to insure that there will be at least a few thrills in my classes. If I can always take the students completely through a learning experience, "from end to end", they may be able, more and more, to enjoy the thrills of reading and writing. They may even occasionally feel “pierced” by the great power of this subject. This reminds me of something I’ve heard people say now and then – that a scream or an explosion or the sudden sound of an alarm was so loud that it went “right through” them. I guess this is what I hope will happen in English class this year. If I can patiently and systematically cover the entire ground of each lesson, from one side to the other and from top to bottom, then perhaps my students will feel that the lessons went “right through” them. Might they even think of English class, at least intermittently, as thrilling?

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