Monday, October 27, 2008

Teaching Journal
Day 34, Monday, October 27, 2008

When I heard someone say the other day that they had to work very hard to make themselves slow down, I immediately loved that seeming contradiction and decided that it should become one of my important goals as a teacher. Strange as it sounds, it does take hard work to slow down. Like most of us, I am often tempted to think that going fast means accomplishing more – that speed equals efficiency – but the truth is very different. In teaching, and in my life, I have discovered over and over again that only by slowing down do I truly experience an activity or a situation – but slowing down takes an immense amount of energy and concentration. I have been conditioned to believe in the value of haste and hurry, and overcoming that conditioning takes serious devotion and persistence. As I work with the students each day, I have to browbeat myself to keep in mind the importance of slowness and deliberateness and carefulness. During class I have to constantly push myself to decelerate, put on the brakes, watch, listen, and wait. It’s hard work. At the end of a day, I’m often exhausted, not from going fast but from slowing down.
This morning I saw again how much the students enjoy being the “teacher’s assistant”. The boy who is the TA this week had a wonderful time in class as he led the students through a simple lesson on finding subjects and verbs. I could see that he was feeling a sense of dignity and importance. His posture was upright and his entire demeanor radiated self-assurance and determination.
As the students were working through a lesson with the TA, I was sitting at the table observing and taking notes -- but also, I must confess, looking out the window now and then. Like the scholars, I was occasionally distracted by the beauties of nature in the garden outside the classroom – the colorful trees, and the birds flitting back and forth to the feeder. It was a lovely scene, just as lovely as a group of children being serious students at a round table, and I found it hard to focus on just one or the other. I hope the students didn’t notice my eyes wandering now and then to the windows.
In one class a girl came without her casual reading book, so she sat for the six-minute reading period and did nothing. My first thought, of course, was that it was a “waste of time”. I guess I’ve been habituated to thinking that “doing nothing” is never an acceptable way of spending time. However, in the next moment, the question “why?” came to my mind. Why is it so bad to do nothing? Why, in the middle of a busy day, is it wrong for a young girl to sit silently and peacefully for a few minutes?
Ah, such good classes today! How did I ever get so lucky to be a teacher of teenagers at this little school? Everything seemed perfect today. The lessons proceeded in a leisurely but efficient manner, and the children were thoroughly focused scholars. Plus, by happenstance, the weather beyond the windows was the best of golden autumn.

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