Sunday, October 11, 2009


As I was listening to a Brahms quartet the other day, once again enjoying the way the melodic themes weave their way through it from start to finish, I thought about the “music” of my English classes. The artistic quality of the piece by Brahms derives, in part, from the way the central melodies are intertwined throughout the quartet. He starts with a theme, comes back to it again and again (though in many variations), and brings the music to a close with a strong final restatement of the theme. This overall unity and coherence helps to make the music an enchanting work of art rather than just a collection of agreeable sounds. On the other hand, I’m afraid my English classes are simply collections of agreeable (or sometimes disagreeable) sounds – nothing close to works of art. I do make careful lesson plans, but I don’t think of them as artistic creations. I more or less outline my goals and objectives and the steps we will take to reach them, but I don’t think of myself as creating something beautiful or enchanting – just a successful English class. However, would it be possible to think of an English class as an art form? Could I “paint”, “sculpt”, or “compose” my classes in such a way that a central theme weaves its way through from start to finish? Could an English class be so beautifully artistic that my students might stand and applaud at the end? Of course I’m stretching things there – but seriously, why don’t we teachers think of ourselves as artists? Why couldn’t I design my classes instead of plan them? Why couldn’t I – thinking of Brahms – embed a theme in every class, and make sure the theme intertwines with all the activities? In a sense, of course I do try to build in unity and coherence when I make my lesson outline, but only in a very pragmatic way. When I plan my classes, I’m thinking of myself as a teacher, not an artist – as a technician, not a creative designer. Could I change? When I sit at my desk to make a lesson plan, could I picture myself painting on a canvas, or composing at a piano?

No comments: