Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Window Study", watercolor, by Andy Smith


In a Jane Austen novel which I’m reading, one of the characters says that she will “study” the comfort and amusement of her friend, meaning she will try her best to make her friend happy while she’s visiting. I find this expression interesting, because I have never thought of “studying” how to make someone happy. Austen makes it sound almost like an academic activity: I picture the character sitting in a desk chair, staring out the window, carefully figuring out ways in which to make her friend comfortable and content. It’s a project – a carefully analyzed and well-planned attempt to bring joy to another person. For me, it’s an unusual approach to the topic, because I’ve always thought of making someone happy as a hit-and-miss process, a spontaneous, freestyle activity in which we follow our instincts and simply try to be as “kind” as possible. I’ve never thought of it as something I could study. It never occurred to me, I guess, that I could learn how to make someone happy – that I could study the process and get better and better at it. I wonder if I could apply this to my teaching. Of course, the main purpose of my teaching is not to make my scholars happy, but surely part of my goal is to help them feel comfortable in my class, and perhaps I can study some different methods for making that happen. Similar to the character in Austen’s novel, maybe I can think of myself as a student involved in the study of making my scholars feel at ease. Like a thoughtful scholar, I could sit in my classroom after school and gaze out the window, pondering and taking notes on the many possibilities.

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