Wednesday, October 17, 2007


H is for Horizontal

I realize, more and more lately, that I enjoy the horizontal aspect of teaching more than the vertical. When I think of vertical teaching, I picture teachers pushing their students up steep slopes of learning. Vertical teachers are relentlessly ambitious to reach the next summit, and as soon as they arrive they start their students off on another climb toward the next summit. For vertical teachers, there’s no looking sideways, no stopping for a lengthy gaze around at what they and their students have achieved. In their desire to help their students accomplish as much as possible, these teachers are almost unyielding in their progress up the hilly trails of education. I admire these kind of teachers because they do a particular service to their students and to our profession, but it’s not my kind of teaching. I guess I’m more interested in helping my students explore each summit than in pushing them quickly off to the next one. I’d like them to learn to appreciate the flat and scenic view on whatever plateaus we reach in English class, rather then to always be looking up at the next vertical climb. After all, there are beautiful horizons to be enjoyed when you’re relaxing at the end of a sheer climb. I think of the book we’re reading in 9th grade – Dickens’ Great Expectations. Yes, we could climb unremittingly up the trails of the book, and probably finish it in just a few weeks and start “climbing” another book. (This is what happens in the majority of high school English classes.) But what’s the point? In that kind of vertical reading, when do the students ever get to pause and take pleasure in the beauties of the plot, the characters, the language? When do they get to take a break to appreciate the artistry that has made the book a classic? In that kind of out-of-breath English teaching, the students, I’m afraid, are left with little more than mental exhaustion and memories of endless climbs up complicated verbal trails. I have little interest in that kind of instruction. In my classes, we may read only a few books each year, but that’s because we’re determined to enjoy the views on each of the countless summits the authors created for us.

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