Sunday, January 27, 2008


V is for View

One benefit I’ve received from having taught for four decades is that I’ve been able, gradually, to get a wider and more comprehensive view of what this whole ‘teaching and learning’ thing is about, and I see now that the view is astonishingly vast. When I was younger, I’m afraid I had a rather myopic view of my work, sort of like tunnel-vision. Everything seemed to happen in a very small arena (about the size of my classroom, actually), and my job was simply to control all the little events that occurred in that small showground where I put my students through their English ‘paces’. I was the boss -- the trainer -- and I thought I knew exactly what was good for my students and what wasn’t. If an activity seemed ‘right’ to me, I put it into the plan; if it seemed ‘wrong’, I rejected it. It was a small teaching world for me back then, and I seemed to be able to control it all quite capably. What I realize now, looking back after 40 years, is that I was operating then like a man living in a tiny house with no windows in the middle of the Grand Canyon. I simply had no idea how immense, how infinite, how inscrutable this teaching business really is. Now, as I gaze out from my senior citizen vantage point, I see the endless possibilities for instruction, the limitless number of roads a teacher can take, the immeasurable number of ripples sent out by even the briefest lesson, the vast distances that stretch out forever when you’re involved in teaching human beings. To modify an old saying, “I’ve seen it all and it’s absolutely astounding.” It’s also humbling, in a very big way. Now, I’m not at all sure I know exactly what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ for my students in their English education. I have hunches, yes, but – honestly – that’s all they are. When you’re faced with the Grand Canyon each day, you get the feeling that you actually don’t know all that much. As I begin a day of teaching, even with a carefully planned set of lessons I almost feel like crossing my fingers, knocking on wood, gritting my teeth, and saying to myself, “Good luck, Ham. Hope you find the right path.”

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