Friday, June 27, 2008


W is for Wary but Wide-open

“Be wary and wise as serpents, and be innocent (harmless guileless, and without falsity) as doves.”

-- Matthew 10:16 (New Amplified Bible)

I’ve often contemplated how Jesus’s advice to his disciples might apply to my work as a middle school English teacher. What’s especially interesting is that he seems to be recommending two contradictory behaviors: he wants his followers (who were, in effect, training to be teachers) to be both clever and naive, both shrewd and ingenuous. A thoughtful reader might ask whether Jesus is demanding the impossible from his student-teachers. How can someone be, at the same time, cunning and candid? How can a teacher be both strong and harmless?
As I’ve thought about it over the years, I’ve concluded that Jesus (a pretty fair teacher in his own right) was offering some of the best advice a teacher can receive. Yes, it is important that, as a teacher of young adults, I be wary, cautious, and on guard at all times, because youthful lives are thoroughly complex and inscrutable, and only steady vigilance will enable me to even begin to understand the miracles that sit before me in the classroom. However, at the same time, I must be trusting and unsuspicious toward my students -- almost, I might say, naive. The word “naive” originally derived from the Latin word “nativus”, meaning “natural”, and thus, as a naive teacher, I would just be myself -- wide-open, self-effacing, and honest.
For sure, I must always be alert and clued-in, but I must also be willing to let down my guard, relax, and learn the lessons my young students are ready to teach me. It’s a two-edged sword that I must bring to my work as a middle school teacher. I must be harmless and honest, and at the same time crafty and subtle (as the serpent is described in the first chapter of Genesis). I must love my students, but it must be a tough and severe love. I must be sincere and straightforward, and also sly and shrewd. I must be both wary and wide-open.

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