Monday, December 29, 2008

"Extreme busyness, whether at school, [church] or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity."
     -- Robert Louis Stevenson, "An Apology for Idlers"

Over the long years (42 and counting) of my teaching, I have developed a significant appreciation for the role of pauses in the classroom. In fact, I have come to think of them as ‘sacred’, not in any religious sense, but in the sense of being inviolable and of substantial consequence. Indeed, in this age of rapidity and busyness bordering on bedlam, it’s vital that we pause now and then to take a breath and look around. Students are just as caught up in the dashing chaos of the times as the rest of us, and therefore they, too, need an occasional break – a moment or two to silently recognize the value of what’s happening. Even a 20-second ‘recess’ from the prattle and bustle of a typical class – just a few seconds of peaceful silence – can be as restorative as a glass of cold water after exercising. We have these pauses every so often during my English classes. When moving from one activity to another, instead of keeping up a non-stop flow of directives, I try to stay silent for a few seconds, just to give us all a gap of serenity in between the business of the day’s lesson. It’s like when a breeze dies for a moment and the ruffles on a lake’s surface become suddenly smooth. The breeze does start up again, and the English lesson does proceed ahead in all seriousness, but that brief moment of idleness – that serene and healing pause – has made all the difference.

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