“I wish I could have died when I was fifteen. It seemed so easy to give things up then; it is so hard now.”
-- Maggie, in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss
Maggie Tulliver is speaking here of far more important issues than the teaching of English to teenagers, and yet something in what she says starts me thinking about my work in the classroom. In a way, it is hard for me to “give things up” now, at my well-seasoned age of 68. When I was fifteen, I could give up one shirt style for another with hardly a thought, but now I’m into my 40th year with button down oxfords. As a teenager, I was an Elvis junkie one week and a Platters disciple the next, but nowadays I’m approaching my golden anniversary as a thoroughly faithful fan of Mozart and Beethoven. Fortunately, however, the opposite seems to be true in my teaching. In the last fifteen years, I have found it increasingly easy to abandon old teaching methods. I’ve cast off lackluster, cumbersome classroom techniques as easily as a ship’s crew tosses out ballast to make the vessel lighter and faster. In a way, I am a totally new teacher. My students from the ‘70’s would not recognize this gentle, tech-savvy, quietly adventuresome teacher. I say this not to brag, because I have no true idea whether I’m a better teacher now than I was when I was ranting and gyrating in front of a blackboard thirty years ago. I just know that, unlike Maggie, I can give up old ways of teaching as effortlessly as I give up one bow tie pattern for another, or one all-time favorite poem for a new one. I feel lucky to have reached a point in life where I can do so. It makes teaching English more like a voyage of exploration than an occupation.