Sunday, December 28, 2008
A TEACHER AS AN UNCARVED PIECE OF WOOD
Somewhere in his writings, Lao Tzu advises readers to be like an uncarved piece of wood, which strikes me as excellent advice for a middle school English teacher. Just as a plain piece of wood in the hands of a gifted artist can be transformed in limitless ways, so can a modest and accommodating teacher be completely made over each day by the students, ideas, and events he encounters. He can start each school day as one person and end it as an entirely new person. In this way, each school day can be the artist, and the teacher is the material being magically molded into something new and wonderful. This would appear to be exactly the opposite of the usual image of a teacher as a skilled artist who shapes the minds of her students, but perhaps it’s not as contradictory as it seems. Perhaps an artist has to first allow the material to transform her before she can transform the material. It could be that the artist must first open herself completely to the uniqueness of her subject before she can work with the subject in a truly creative and transformative way. In the same way, I must learn to present myself in my classroom each day as an unassuming, ready-to-learn apprentice, for only in that way will I be able to see the matchless qualities of each of the students. To use another phrase from Eastern philosophy, I must have a ‘beginner’s mind’ each morning, fully prepared to experience the students as exceptional individuals the likes of which I’ve never seen before. In that way, like an uncarved piece of wood, I can be transformed each day, which will perhaps enable me to at least attempt to fulfill the most hallowed duty of a teacher – that of transforming the lives of students.