Wednesday, August 13, 2008


W is for Writing on Water

A former student of mine, who has gone on to considerable success on the stage, recently wrote about his life in the theater, using a metaphor that might be useful in thinking about teaching. He said the life of an actor is a lot like “writing on water”: when a performance comes to an end, it’s gone forever. All the hard work “disappears in an instant”, and those involved are left with only the memories. An actor, he wrote, must become an expert at letting go and moving on. As I read his essay, I thought about both myself and my teenage scholars. I sometimes get way too absorbed in “building” my curriculum, as if it’s a solid structure that, if constructed carefully enough, might last forever. I often forget that my words, my lesson plans, my year-long syllabus, are no less ephemeral than passing breezes … or words written on water. As soon as a class is over, it “disappears in an instant” as the scholars move on to other classes, other “shows”. Yes, a few memories remain (I hope), some threads of which might weave their way through the students’ future lives, but essentially the show is over when the period ends. The water swirls along and the writing is gone forever. I must remind the kids of this when the new school year begins in September. I must tell them again that evanescence is the nature of education, and, indeed, of life. Things come, and things go. Each moment in English class, and in their lives, is no more solid or enduring than a bubble in a stream. I will remind them of this, not to set a gloomy tone for class, but quite the opposite – to show them that studying English, and living a life, can be as enjoyable and relaxing as riding on a river. They must let the current take them along. When they round a new bend, they must look ahead, not back, for something remarkable is always waiting – in the next class, in the upcoming production, or when the sun shines again tomorrow.

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