ONE YEAR WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER
Day 35, Thursday, October 25, 2007
At my school, if you need some inspiration, or you just want to start your Thursday on a high-flying note, you can stop in to listen to the middle school chorus at 8:20. I did that this morning, and I can't imagine getting my day up and running in a more heartening way. As I watched and listened, it was obvious to me that almost all the boys and girls were singing at their best level (many with pure pleasure and abandon), and the songs were a joy to hear. I don't recall hearing a PPS chorus sing any better. Outside, the trees were glowing in the morning darkness, while in the music room there was a glow of another kind.
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One of my students asked me several weeks ago if I would like to watch one of her piano lessons, so yesterday morning, before school, I quietly entered the practice room where she was working at the piano with her teacher. And working is the right word. As I watched her practice, I could easily see how hard she was laboring as she tried to play what seemed like a very challenging piece. She was trying to make her hands and fingers perform new and intricate maneuvers, and it was obviously not easy. Her head and shoulders jerked and bobbed as she worked on the keys, and every so often I heard short bursts of sighs and groans. It struck me, as I watched, that she was toiling to learn this new piece in much the same way my students labor to put words and sentences together for essays. For her practice session, she was forcing her fingers to learn new habits, and for my writing assignments the students must force new ideas into new words, and then into new arrangements. What she was hoping was that her fingers would soon acquire the habit of playing this piece, just as I hope my students will slowly develop the habit of writing orderly and clear essays. Both tasks require a struggle -- often an extreme one -- at the start (as I saw with my student at the piano), but both tasks also can be bountifully rewarding when the habit has been entirely embedded. Then a Mozart sonata or a seven paragraph essay can be almost an effortless undertaking -- almost, indeed, a delight.