Monday, July 07, 2008


X is for Xylophone

When I’m teaching, it sometimes occurs to me that I am like a xylophone musician. My middle school English students are the rows of wooden bars, and it is up to me to “play” them in such a way that pleasant-sounding music is produced. Unlike a xylophone, my students are not arranged according to length to sound a chromatic scale, but if I’m alert in my role as teacher-musician, I can “tap” them in such a way that the innate harmonies of the class are released. I don’t have to create the music of learning in my classes, because it’s already there, inside each of my students, just as the music is hidden in each bar of a xylophone. My job is simply to allow the music of my students’ minds to be released and appreciated. This suggests, I think, the incredible challenges of my work. If I am to become a truly good teacher, I must be as skilled as the finest master of a xylophone, knowing precisely when to “tap” a student and with exactly how much pressure. If I put too much pressure on a student, the result might be harsh discordance instead of music, and if I “stroke” a student too lightly, the class may never hear his or her inner wisdom. Not only that, like the musician, I must play each group of students in such a way that their ideas and statements blend together in a melodious manner. As in a xylophone, innumerable melodies are hidden in each of my English classes as they sit before me, and it is my task to deftly bring them forth. By adroitly questioning students, calling on them, listening to them, and responding to them, I can allow some beautiful “songs” to arise in each class. Passing by in the hall, someone might wonder where all the music is coming from.

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