Sunday, October 07, 2007


H is for Habit

In some ways, I think my main task as an English teacher is to help my students develop good habits. In their future English courses, and in their lives in general, they will often be expected to exhibit specific patterns of behavior, and it is my responsibility to introduce and perhaps implant those patterns. Their teachers and employers will expect them to be able to routinely perform specific tasks involving reading and writing without much uncertainty or hesitation, and I can help them develop those tendencies. Because, through repeated repetition, they learned how to tie their shoes, they now can do it quickly and skillfully, and I would like them to develop, in a similar way, good habits in reading and writing. In the future, for example, my students will be required to write hundreds of “papers”, both in school and at work, and it is my duty to prepare them to do this as efficiently as possible. I need to develop in them the “practice” of clear, orderly writing, so that it can be done smoothly and promptly, with as little unrest as possible. When they’re given a writing assignment next year or ten years from now, my hope is that they can do it almost as easily as they tie their shoes. Some might protest that writing essays and reports is far more complex than tying one's shoes, and I would certainly agree. However, the habitual element in both tasks is similar. LeBron James can dribble like a magician because it's become an ingrained habit for him, and I would hope my students can learn to write essays with the same kind of routine wizardry. The essays will (I hope) contain intricate ideas, but the overall flow of the papers will be the result of well-practiced habits. Even more important, though, is the necessity for forming in my students an established disposition of the mind as regards reading and writing. Even more than doing certain actions with confidence, I want them to be a certain kind of reader and writer. I want them, if you will, to gradually acquire the habit of being serious and devoted students of the written word. That, I think, will help them be serious and devoted human beings for the rest of their lives.

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