Saturday, May 24, 2008


I is for Invisible

As the years have passed, I have almost completely changed my beliefs about the role of a teacher. For example, in my early decades in the classroom, I thought my major task was to be the front-and-center leader of my students – to be a strong and noticeable presence for them, someone whom they could focus upon, emulate, and follow. I thought my job, above all, was to be visible to my students. Now, though, I have a very different idea. Now I hope to become more and more invisible to my students as the weeks of the school year pass. I see more clearly than ever that truly good teaching is never about the teacher, but always and only about the mysterious and wondrous subject matter being studied. The subject matter should be front and center, the teacher back and off to the side. The study of ideas and words (which is what English class is all about) is a mystifying and infinite enterprise, and no individual “teacher” should stand in the way of it. Ideas and words shine a great light, and a teacher who is a large and visible presence in the classroom only gets in the way of that light. Hippocrates told doctors their primary duty was “to do no harm”, and I increasingly feel that way about teaching. Learning is a mighty force that is continually happening in my students’ lives, and one of my primary responsibilities as a teacher is to stand out of the way and allow that force to do its work. The more invisible I become in the classroom, the more the natural power of wisdom – exemplified, in English class, by great literature and passionate student writing -- can carry on with its eternal mission. I can offer quiet encouragement and humble assistance to my students now and then, but words and ideas, not an individual person called a teacher, must be the constant center of our attention.

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