Monday, September 22, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09
Day 11
September 22

ONE TEACHER’S ALPHABET: I is for Investment

     During these days of turmoil in the investment banking business, I’ve been thinking about how the word “invest” might apply to my work as a middle school English teacher. An important definition of the word is to spend or devote for future advantage or benefit, as in “he invested much time and energy in getting a good education”. In that sense, my students and I are serious investors, depositing resources each day in a “fund” that will come to our aid at some point in the future. We’re not dealing with stocks or bonds in Room 2, but with ideas, feelings, and words – and what’s especially appealing about this kind of investing is that we’re assured of ample returns. There’s absolutely no risk involved when the transactions involve the Bank of English Class. No matter what ideas or feelings are “deposited’ during class, no matter what words are “invested”, we are sure of substantial profit in the coming months and years. The scholars could seriously stagger on a particular assignment, but still the future “yield” would be considerable because something essential would have been learned. A student could even make a grave behavioral mistake during class and nonetheless be assured of a sizeable return on the “investment”, since mistakes can be first-rate teachers. New York’s Wall Street may be suffering, but on floor of Room 2, the “Dow-Jones” is, as always, way up.

This morning, after the students were seated, I turned the computer projector on and, as usual, it took perhaps a minute to brighten up and come into focus. Instead of using this time to talk to the students about something, I remained silent, as did the students, and we all watched the lesson plan for today gradually appear on the screen. For me, it was an interesting experience – to observe the topics for the English class, the individual sentences and words of my plans for the students, slowly but surely materialize in front of us. It was like magic, like seeing a figure come into view on a murky morning, or like suddenly understanding a simple truth. Perhaps that’s what my classes can sometimes be
-- a slow but steady surfacing of new ideas and feelings.
In another class, there was some noise in the hall and one of the scholars asked if she should close the door. Without thinking much about it, I asked her to leave it open – and later, I was glad I did, because it gave me a chance to talk to the students, briefly, about resisting the temptation to be distracted. I said disturbances in the hall or outside are actually opportunities – wonderful occasions for practicing self-discipline and restraint. I said I actually hope we do have occasional disruptions nearby, for they will aid in strengthening our willpower.
I want to work more and more on being less judgmental during class -- and in my life in general. I can’t believe how often I pass judgment on comments, situations, and events. For me, almost nothing is ever “just what it is”. It’s usually good or bad, right or wrong, pleasant or unpleasant, on the mark or off, correct or incorrect, helpful or unhelpful, fascinating or ordinary, astute or naive. Of course, I don’t often verbalize these judgments, but they make up a large share of my mental activities. What truly baffles me is why I think I have the acumen to pass judgment on anything. Do I actually think I have enough wisdom to step out of the infinite milieu of the universe, see everything from a distant and objective viewpoint, and then hand down rulings about the relative merit of all things? I’ve been doing it all my life – almost every waking moment – and yet it makes absolutely no sense. It’s a ridiculous game I’ve been playing, a juvenile charade, and the really gloomy feature is that I’ve taken it all pretty seriously. I actually believe in my judgments.
This year I hope I can see, each day, the silliness of the judgmental way of life. Of course, I have to occasionally pass judgment on my students’ work and behavior, but I hope I can do it with a clear sense of humility and unworthiness, knowing that, truthfully, I am no more qualified to judge anything than a wave is qualified to be the evaluator of the immeasurable ocean.

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