“… and so fill up the gap where force might fail
With skill and fineness … “
-- Alfred Lord Tennyson, “The Idylls of the King”
The above quote, referring to a knight’s strategy in battle, could be applied to my own ‘battles’ as a middle school English teacher. My wars aren’t against my students (fortunately, they are all well-behaved and fairly eager to learn) but against ignorance, and, like Tennyson’s knight, I’ve found that “skill and fineness” works far more effectively than force. In fact, over the years my use of force (in the form of harangues, glares, consequences, and other assorted warnings) has diminished to almost nothing. I have gradually given up pushing, shoving, and pulling in favor of supporting, encouraging, complimenting, and congratulating. I’ve found that a smile is a “fineness’ that can work wonders, and that gentleness can transform a possible combat zone into a peaceful place for instruction and illumination.