Monday, September 29, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09
Day 16
Monday, September 29

C is for Careful

Today the word “careful” might be a good one to keep in mind as my classes come and go. A person is careful if, as one dictionary says, he is “thorough and painstaking in action or execution”, and that certainly applies to my work as a middle school English teacher. I should be thorough in everything I do in the classroom – in comments I make to students, in each step of my lessons, even in the most trivial action I might undertake. Let me do many good things today in my teaching, and let me do each one with attention to detail. Let me be “painstaking” (from the above definition), in the sense of doing the little bit extra, making the small additional effort, that would turn an everyday action into a special one. Let me do ordinary tasks in an extraordinary manner.
In one class, I made it a point to notice – carefully notice – which students were being genuinely attentive when a classmate was speaking, and there were many of them. In fact, to my surprise, it was apparent that most of the kids were listening carefully most of the time. This is important for me to remember, because seeing even one unfocused student can often lead me think that most of them are unfocused, when in fact the opposite is probably true. I think it’s safe to say that, in general, the majority of my scholars are usually quite alert during English class. (The more I think about that, the more surprising it becomes.)
As usual, at the start of each class today I played soft background classical music during quiet reading, and once again I noticed the worthy effects. It seems to set a peaceable tone for the peaceable reading that’s happening. In the sometimes confused lives of my young students, it’s good to offer them some moments of refreshing tranquility at the start of each class. Who knows? Years from now, they may still receive some secret benefits from hearing Chopin in English class when they were 13.
Several times today I forgot to wait until the kids were all looking at me before I began talking. What is the point of speaking if the words go casually past the students? Words are extraordinary things, not to be squandered, not to be tossed around in a classroom like trifles.
When I read an Emily Dickinson poem aloud, one girl in particular looked very thoughtful. As she listened to the words, her forehead was knitted and she tilted her head in a meditative way. When I finished, there was silence in the room for a moment, and then she raised her hand and gave a particularly instructive interpretation of the poem.
Today I gave back essays to the 9th grade, and in one class I made sure to give ample time for the students to read my comments carefully and place the essay in their binders. It required patience on my part. I quietly waited until every student had put their essays away and was looking at me. It was precisely the correct thing to do, and it made me wonder how many thousands of times I have caused my students to do a task in a slapdash manner by rushing them through it.

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