Sunday, October 12, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09

Columbus Day Weekend

On Not Judging a River

I have been a very judgmental person – but I’m trying hard to change. For most of my life, I spent a good part of my waking hours passing judgments on situations, events, and people. A situation was either good or bad, helpful or detrimental; an event either worked to my advantage or didn’t; and a person was either right or wrong, nice or not so nice, young or old, smart or not so smart. It’s surprising I haven’t thoroughly exhausted myself with all this passionate handing down of verdicts and pronouncements. Truth is, some time ago I decided to stop being a judge – perhaps take early retirement from “the bench”, you might say. I was, indeed, tired from having to constantly judge everything that came my way, and I decided I wanted to enjoy instead of judge. To use a figure of speech, I wanted to sit by the river of life and take pleasure in its passing, without having to give my considered opinion about how well or poorly it was flowing. It’s an interesting metaphor, and it brings me around to my role as an English teacher. Now, I realize that I have an obligation to judge my students’ performances in class, and I accept that responsibility in all seriousness. However, I do it with the full understanding that my judgments are fairly superficial and, in the big picture, fairly unimportant. Judging whether my students can write a 5-paragraph essay is an essential part of my job, but it says almost nothing about the vast mystery that is the children’s lives. Their lives flow past me in the classroom like mighty rivers, and what I enjoy most about teaching, when I can find the time, is simply observing and appreciating that flow. A river changes constantly and amazingly, and so do the 8th and 9th graders in my classes. Every chance I get, I put down my judge’s gavel and simply enjoy the show the English scholars put on. I’m hoping to do the same, more and more, with all of my life.

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