Monday, June 11, 2007

One day last week, as the school year drew to a close, I received a compliment about my teaching, but it was noteworthy to me in a very different way than compliments used to be. In the past, a compliment suggested to me that I had done something well, and that I could be pleased with my accomplishment. Back then it was very much an ego-thing. The pronoun “I” in its different forms was prominent in my thoughts: the compliments meant that I did well because I have talent and because I worked hard to make myself a better teacher. Now, though, after 40-some years in the profession, I’ve come to understand that good teaching has nothing whatever to do with a personal ego. In fact, to the contrary, only by realizing that the ego of the teacher is the biggest obstacle to excellent teaching can the door be opened to genuine success in the classroom. Only if the teacher’s ego becomes less and less can real learning become more and more. When I received that compliment last week, I was glad, but not glad for my self, the puny little ego that thinks it’s so important but really, in the big picture, is utterly powerless by itself. I was glad, rather, for the whole immeasurable and mysterious process that’s involved in educating a human being, a process of which I am one of an incalculable number of parts. In the lives of my students, all the movies, tv shows, conversations, entertainments, trips, passing glimpses, passing thoughts, words overheard, joys, sorrows, and sunsets contribute just as much to their education as their English teachers. As well meaning as it was intended to be, the compliment should not be for me, but for the process – the thoroughly enigmatic and graceful flowering called education. I was gratified to receive the compliment, but in my mind I passed it along to the rightful recipient.

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