Sunday, November 22, 2009


“Maggie’s destiny, then, is at present hidden, and we must wait for it to reveal itself like the course of an unmapped river; we only know that the river is full and rapid ….”

--from The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I make careful plans for my course each summer, and I make detailed lesson plans each day, and yet, underneath it all, I know the “destiny” of my teaching is strictly, in Eliot’s phrase, “an unmapped river”. To stay with the analogy, making plans for classes is like a river traveler sketching an outline of what he hopes might happen in the next unknown stretch of an unexplored river. It’s comforting, and in some ways helpful, for the traveler to do this, but he has to realize that a large amount of pretending and air-castle-building is involved. In truth, he is totally ignorant of the countless possible scenarios (good and bad) that could lie ahead, just as I am as I make my rosy teaching plans. Of course, there’s some good news in all this, because it brings the quirky and adventurous element of teaching to the forefront. My work as a teacher of teenagers is oddly similar to traveling a nameless river, but that’s part of the pleasure of it. Each day I enter my classroom as I might enter one of Joseph Conrad’s steamers on a jungle river, fearful for the bumbling and failure that might lie ahead but keyed up at the prospect of surprising sights and discoveries.

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