Tuesday, July 01, 2008

W is for Workmanship
               ...there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e'er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!

--William Wordsworth, “The Prelude”

As a teacher, I love this passage from Wordsworth because it speaks about a mystery that has often befuddled me. There is a “workmanship” in my classes, and it is entirely “inscrutable” to me. Somehow, day after day, my students and I grow as teachers and learners, and yet I truly have no idea how this happens. To say it happens because of my teaching is, to my mind, a superficial approach to unraveling the puzzle. I can pretend that the learning happens because I plan my lessons carefully, but I am always fully aware in my heart that something far more commanding and inexplicable than one individual teacher’s brain is at work in my classroom. “How strange”, as the poet exclaims, that so many “discordant elements” in a middle school classroom – so many unique human beings, so many past histories, so many dissimilar memories, ambitions, thoughts, feelings, and fears – can somehow be “reconcile[d]”, day after day, into “one society” of scholars! In some mysterious manner, my students and I grow in beneficial ways because of each English class. We leave the classroom a wholly different group of people than when we entered – and none of us has the remotest idea why this happens. What’s especially bewildering is the fact that everything works together to produce the growth that occurs in class. Even the “miseries/ [r]egrets, vexations, [and] lassitudes [day-dreaminess]” that my students and I inevitably experience during English class are inexplicably “interfused” and play “a needful part” in the radical changes that occur inside us in each class. My teaching plays a part in this process, certainly, but no bigger a part than that played by any of the other innumerable elements that swirl around in my classroom in each 48 minute period. The workmanship that is observable in my classes (and any teacher’s classes) is a wonderful conundrum to me, a charming puzzle that is worthy of “praise to the end” of time.

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