Friday, November 20, 2009


As we enter the annual season of giving, I’m reminded of the noteworthy role that giving plays in English class. When I think about it, each class is really an uninterrupted process of giving – a process that happens whether or not my students and I want it to, and no matter what kind of learning (or anti-learning) mood we’re in. In fact, what we most obviously give is our moods. As soon as my students and I enter the classroom, we share our moods with each other, giving our facial expressions, postures, and words as surely as we give gifts during the holiday season. If we’re in a bitter mood, then the gift we give each other will be bitter – but it’s still a gift, one we give by simply being with other people. Hopefully we usually give our expressions of happiness, our postures of interest and attention, and our words of friendship and decorum. My favorite kind of giving in the classroom is simply the giving of ideas. My students and I give countless ideas to each other during a 48-minute English class. If ideas were physical objects, you would see us constantly presenting each other with packages of special thoughts – some brightly wrapped, some informal and unwrapped, even some with scarred and scary appearances (but still gifts). Usually, of course, these gifts of ideas come enclosed in words. From the start of class to the end, there’s a stream of words passing among the students and me like a constant sharing of presents. Each word we speak is filled with special surprises – the exclusive feelings and thoughts that only we could have created – and they’re wrapped in the distinctive sound of our voices. They’re not always given with tenderness and good cheer, but they are given, because that’s what words do: they give themselves, by the thousands, in every English class.

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