Saturday, June 21, 2008


P is for Pretend

While I think there is never a place for deceit or artificiality in teaching, there is often a purposeful role for pretending. It interests me that the word “pretend” derives from the Latin “tendere”, meaning to stretch or extend, because in my classroom work I definitely want to stretch and extend both myself and my students. If my students feel like they are not very sophisticated readers, perhaps I can help them stretch their confidence. By encouraging them to extend their beliefs in their abilities – to “pretend” they are vigilant and astute readers before they begin a difficult chapter or story – perhaps I can help the fantasy become, to some degree, a reality. The same could be true for me as their teacher. To be perfectly frank, I feel like I know almost nothing about teaching, despite having practiced the craft for over forty years. As some of my students do when they begin reading a chapter in Dickens, I often feel utterly bewildered when I begin teaching a class, no matter how thoroughly I have prepared. Like an enigmatic short story, the art of teaching other human beings remains an impenetrable mystery to me, but I’ve found it helps if I at least pretend that it isn’t. I know that all of my students are more measureless and inscrutable than the grandest galaxy, but, for expediency’s sake, I can pretend that they are relatively understandable and modifiable creatures. What’s strange about this pretending, for both my students and me, is that it often works. By putting on the manner of a sophisticated reader, the students often find that they become better readers – more urbane, more able to extend their understanding of a work of literature. Likewise, by making believe that I know precisely what I’m doing in my classroom, I seem to actually become a better teacher – more organized, more perceptive, more able to stretch my students’ reading and writing horizons. It may well be that, in an utterly mystifying universe like ours, both teaching and learning are best treated as games to be played rather than battles to be won or expeditions to be completed. We teachers and students might as well relax and enjoy the educational process for what it is -- an always entertaining and occasionally startling pastime, a risk-free game of "let's pretend".

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