Sunday, September 20, 2009


“The only alleviating circumstance in a tête-à-tête with uncle Pullet was that he kept a variety of lozenges and peppermint-drops about his person, and when at a loss for conversation, he filled up the void by proposing a mutual solace of this kind.”
-- George Eliot, in The Mill on the Floss

This quote refers to a teenage boy who is bored silly by a visit to his relatives, and it reminded me, as I read it this afternoon, that my youthful, restive students must often be afflicted with a similar sense of tedium in my classes. In his audacious and adventurous stage of life, Tom Tulliver finds his uncle ridiculously insignificant, and I’m sure my students sometimes wonder what in the world a dawdling grandfather like me can offer them in the way of stimulating experiences. Tom can’t wait to escape from his uncle’s dreary company to get on with the natural pleasures of boyhood, and I’ll wager that the kids in my class would gladly trade a discussion about a short story by Fitzgerald for some rousing banter on a zillion topics with friends. However, Uncle Pullet does offer something to soothe Tom’s ennui (peppermint drops and lozenges), and perhaps I also, without realizing it, supply some occasional solace during a tiresome class. After all, I do smile a lot when I’m teaching, and now and then I pull a joke (admittedly always preposterous) out of my mental bag. I also laugh, on impulse, probably 20 times in a 48 minute class – wholehearted, honest laughter that possibly makes the mood less burdensome and offers some relief to the students (and me) in the midst of a wearisome lesson. In addition, I have an ample supply of sincere compliments ready to bestow on this or that student, or on all of us as an industrious group of learners, and honest praise is probably at least as heartening as peppermint drops.

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