Thursday, October 02, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09
Thursday, October 2
Day 18


Some time ago, I came across this quote, and ever since, it has been a guiding inspiration for me:

“In the end, it is not the extraordinariness of the teacher which perplexes, intrigues, and beckons the student. On the contrary, it is the teacher’s utter ordinariness. Because he is just himself, he is a mirror for his students. When we are with him, we feel our own strengths and shortcomings without any sense of praise or criticism from him. In his presence, we see our original face. And the extraordinariness we see is only our own true nature.”
-- from What Dies? by Stephen Levine

I want to be a thoroughly ordinary teacher, because only then can my students shine with their own extraordinariness. Rather than be the center of attention, I want to stay on the outer edge of notice so the scholars can be front and center. Instead of an intense and showy light, I want to simply be a clean mirror in which the kids can see themselves clearly, with all their weaknesses and strengths. Today I hope my utter ordinariness will reveal to the students some of the breathtaking rareness of their own lives.
I noticed that a few of the students almost always begin reading as soon they come into class. While others are talking quietly or getting themselves organized in one way or another, these dutiful students promptly get started on the first task of every English class – silent reading. I’m sure I often overlook their consistent sense of responsibility and propriety, so I’m glad I happened to notice it today.
One boy had a particularly noteworthy class today. He has not experienced a great amount of success and praise in his years in school, but today he was an exemplary student. His homework had been done with care and thoroughness, and he participated in the discussion in a mature and intelligent manner. I was very happy for him. I congratulated him at the end of class, and he looked a bit bewildered by the praise, perhaps because it was something thoroughly novel to him.
In keeping with my morning paragraph (above) about being an “ordinary” teacher, I tried to stay on the periphery during the 9th grade discussions about Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”. Indeed, the students’ comments about the story were shrewd and discerning, making any contributions from me entirely superfluous. All they needed from me was my presence, which was just the way I wanted it. By being there with them, I was perhaps able to establish an atmosphere of dignity and attentiveness, but the students did most of the talking. I was in the background, which is precisely what enabled the young scholars to share the foreground together.

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