Day 51, Thursday, November 20, 2008
I was thinking early this morning that the old idiom, “a toss up”, could apply to much of what happens in English class. The idiom refers to something that is still unclear and can go either way, or many ways, and this is certainly the case in many – perhaps even all -- situations in my classes. The fact is that my students and I could do “toss-ups” throughout a given class period. Does the poem mean this or that or the other? It’s a toss-up. Should this paragraph start with this sentence or that one or this other one? It’s a toss-up. For a lesson plan, should I do this activity or that one or some other one? It’s a toss-up. Was the writer of this story trying to make this point or that point or one of a thousand other possible points? It’s a toss-up. More and more it becomes clear to me that teaching English is like playing an exciting game of chance. I plan my lessons with great care, and the scholars usually do their work conscientiously, but we’re still basically rolling the dice. Who knows what ideas will turn up in our minds, what events will occur during a given class, which directions we’ll end up going in a literary discussion. It’s ultimately a toss-up -- and a very agreeable one at that.
This morning at the start of one of the classes, as we were settling into our few minutes of quiet reading, I caught the soft sounds of hot water filling up the students’ cups behind the puppet stage. The ‘server of the week’ was back there preparing refreshments for the scholars, and the sounds of his preparations – the water, the occasional tinkling of a spoon – were a soothing accompaniment to our reading. As I listened and read and sipped my coffee, I also picked up the quiet hum of the computer projector, almost like the sound of a stream passing by or a breeze among limbs and leaves. I took a grateful breath, relaxed still more, and turned a page in my book.