Day 36, October 29, 2008
I did a little dictionary work with the word “levity” this morning, and discovered some connections to my work as a middle school English teacher. The first definition I found mentioned “lightness of manner or speech, especially when inappropriate”, and this is definitely not the kind of levity I want to promote in my classroom. This is the levity of the playground and after-school hours, when kids can be their light-hearted selves, adults be damned, but it will never have a place in my classroom. In my classes I expect the spoken words of the students to be fairly heavy with meaning instead of light with nonsense. However, another definition used the words “inconstancy and changeableness”, which made me think more positively about levity as a classroom mood. Changeableness is vital in an English classroom, because nothing is more changeable or inconstant than language and literature. We English teachers deal mainly with thoughts and words, two of the most unsettled and unpredictable entities in the universe, and so it should be natural for an English teacher to foster an appreciation of uncertainty and capriciousness. Yes, I like to have order in my classroom, but the students must realize that it’s a superficial order, hidden beneath which is the ever-varying world of ideas and words and books. The last definition I found said levity referred to “the state or quality of being light or buoyant”, and I immediately knew this was an important quality for my classroom. My students and I both need to work on taking life more lightly than seriously. In the really big picture, putting commas in the right place is not terribly important. When people are dying by the millions due to starvation, it’s not all that serious that one of my lesson plans flops like a pancake. The kids and I need to be buoyant enough to rise above things and realize that the universe is running pretty smoothly, thank you very much. A little of that kind of levity in Room 2 wouldn’t hurt at all.
One of the quietest students in my classes made an absolutely brilliant comment today. In the midst of a discussion about a puzzling short story by Katherine Mansfield, this lad raised his hand and promptly astounded us by making a subtle comparison between the story and a French poem we had studied a few weeks back. The students were enthralled, I think, as they listened to their normally taciturn classmate. When he had finished, I praised him and told him we would love to hear more from him in class, and I heard several words of agreement from the class. It was an extraordinary moment.