ONE YEAR WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER
Day 106, Thursday, February 28, 2008
Analogy of the Day: The Teacher as a Tool, Instrument, and Implement
Today perhaps I can be like a tool for my students -- a 'device' that facilitates their work as readers and writers. In a way, that's really all I should be -- a device, an apparatus, a gadget, a simple piece of equipment that helps the kids get important academic tasks accomplished. Like a good tool, I should stay out of the way -- 'in the toolbox' -- until my students need me. I might also think of myself today as an instrument, a relatively small precision tool used by trained professionals (in this case, my students). A scalpel is a surgeon's instrument for performing delicate tasks, and maybe I can be an instrument to aid my students in the more precise and exacting tasks of English class. If they need to know about using sophisticated techniques like anaphora and antithesis in their writing, the specialized instrument called Mr. Salsich can come to their aid. Or, perhaps I will be more of an implement today, more like a tool used in agriculture and certain building trades. In this case, I would think of myself as a somewhat bulky and sturdy piece of equipment, like a power saw or a scaffold. My students are often 'building' things in class -- most often long essays and detailed interpretations of books -- and they need me, now and then, to provide the 'heavy gear' necessary to get the jobs done efficiently and beautifully. I must remember, most importantly, that tools, instruments, and implements are not the center of attention in any process. The scalpel doesn't do the surgery; the surgeon does, and the scalpel stays on the table until needed. The 'surgeons' in my classroom are the students, and their exacting work should be front and center at all times. Like the scalpel, I need to stay out of the way until I'm needed. That's the job of a good teacher.
It was gratifying to hear several 8th grade students say they had a much greater appreciation of Our Town now that we had finished reading the play and watching a film version of it. Several students said they actually preferred it over To Kill a Mockingbird, one boy adding that it seemed 'deeper' than Harper Lee's novel. The students implied that their enjoyment of the play grew gradually over the weeks that we spent on it. We did, indeed, read the play very slowly, studying it and commenting on it as we read, and we watched the film in a similar fashion, taking notes and discussing each day's viewing. Based on the students' comments today, I feel that this unhurried, purposeful approach to the play (an approach I use in all my teaching) was at least moderately successful.
Today I again sat among the students at the round table instead of at the 'teacher's place'. The "maitre d'" (one of the student jobs in my room) sat where I usually sit, and I was able to get a student's view of the room. It also enabled me to sit back, shut up, and allow the students to do more of the talking. It's amazing what happens when I remove myself a little from the action when I become more like a coach than a band conductor.