Thursday, November 27, 2008

Teaching Journal
Thursday, November 27, 2008

“Way Over My Head”
Strange as it may sound, I usually feel that the skills necessary to be a good middle school English teacher are ‘way over my head’ -- and actually, I’m glad I feel that way. That recurring feeling of being dumbfounded as to what this teaching business is all about serves to keep me humble -- and humility, I think, is one of the most important prerequisites for a teacher. Over the years, teaching has become a vaster and more perplexing mystery to me. More and more I see that I’m involved in a profession that rivals rocket science in its intricacies and enigmas. I’m like a nanoscale breeze blowing in the immensity of the worldwide winds of learning. I don’t mean to suggest that what I’m doing in my small classroom in my small school is not important or beneficial -- just that it’s no more important than the zillion other educative influences that will blow my students’ way. If someone asked me to define or explain these influences -- these magical ways in which learning happens -- I would have to say, “It’s way over my head.” Saying it would remind me to get off my high horse and humbly pay homage to the immeasurable enterprise I’ve been engaged in for the past 42 years.

(Below is a post from two years ago on this subject:


Whenever I feel inspired by my work as a teacher – whenever I feel like I’m doing a great job and am becoming a better and better teacher – I know I’ve lost my way temporarily. I know I’ve taken the familiar but dangerous path toward arrogance instead of the narrow and correct one that leads to humility. I’m patting my own back instead of my students’. Like a confused gardener, I’m admiring the soil more than the flowers. After all, a teacher’s only job is to see to it that his students grow as abundantly and gracefully as possible. His job is not to be a brilliant teacher but to make it easy for his students to be brilliant students. All the spotlights in his classroom should be on the students, and none on himself. To go back to the garden analogy: Who wouldn’t be amused at a gardener who, at the end of the growing season, was more thrilled with the quality of the soil than with the wealth of the harvest? The harvest, not the soil, is the whole point of a garden, and productive, resourceful students is the whole point of education. Like soil, a good teacher is helpful, but he should remain relatively hidden, like the featureless, unassuming soil in which a profusion of beautiful things grows. A good teacher doesn’t need to feel successful; he only needs to know that his students do.

No comments: