Day 35, October 28, 2008
LIGHT RATHER THAN HEAT
Perhaps the best way to describe one of my goals as an English teacher is to say that I’m more interested in light than in heat. That hasn’t always been the case. For the first many years of my career, I was a ‘heat’ guy in the classroom – always trying to stir up excitement, always looking for ways to ignite emotions, always looking to “light a fire”. In those early days, teaching, for me, was more of a wild adventure than an accomplished discipline. I’m afraid I was devoted to generating fiery intensity more than clear thinking. In the latter part of my career, however, I have given more time to just allowing the light of intelligence to suffuse my classroom. I’ve quit being the busybody builder of fires and started being the quiet observer of the vivid light of my students’ thoughts. I’ve learned that I don’t need to create the learning as much as allow it to happen. The light of intelligence is always present when kids and a teacher get together. I’m learning simply to stand out of the way of that light.
This morning, as we were discussing an enigmatic short story in a 9th grade class, a particularly puzzling group of sentences was brought up. I quickly admitted that, despite having read the story many times, I still had no idea what the sentences might mean. A boy sitting next to me on the circle quickly raised his hand and said he thought he could explain the sentences, which he proceeded to do – clearly and thoroughly. I was delighted as I listened. Here was a 14-year-old boy who understand the puzzling writing of a celebrated classic author far better than his 66-year-old teacher. Here was the student teaching the teacher. It was a magical moment, the kind I have luckily experienced hundreds of times.
I noticed, during quiet reading time, that one girl was completely absorbed in her book. For the entire 6-minute period, her head was down over the pages and hardly a muscle moved. It was literary intensity at its best. If my supervisors want to see me doing my finest teaching, they should probably visit during quiet reading time.