Tuesday, December 15, 2009


As my years in the classroom have passed, I have made increasing use of the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan “Easy Does It”. It’s been a revitalizing change for me, because for the first half of my teaching career I might as well have worn a button proclaiming that “Hard Does It”.  In those years I approached teaching somewhat like a soldier approaches a skirmish. Every aspect of teaching seemed to involve an obstacle to be overcome, a resistance to be neutralized, a hurdle to be vaulted. It was hard work – “hard” meaning tense, hectic, and even traumatic. Now, thankfully, I approach my work more like a sailor heading out to sea. When I’m teaching, I often think of my long-gone father, the finest sailor I knew and the man who taught me that “easy does it” on the high seas. Sailing was easy, he said, because you simply let the wind do the work. He taught me not to fight the wind – not to try to control it or manipulate it or resist it – but simply to work with it. Fighting the wind was hard work; cooperating with it, combining forces with it, was, according to Dad, as easy as breathing. These days I often think of him as I’m steering my lesson through a 48-minute class period. Like the capricious winds of the ocean, problems, distractions, and my inevitable mistakes arise and whirl around me, but – remembering Captain Pete – I try to relax and go easy instead of stiffen and fight. As student questions are asked and comments are made, I turn the lesson a little this way or that to take advantage of the energies and interests in the classroom. This doesn’t mean that teaching is easy for me – just that I take it easy as I’m teaching. There are times when I must be firm with a student or a class, just as a sailor must pull hard on the sails in a storm – but I try to be firm in a gentle manner, strong in a kind way. Dad always said a good sailor is both forceful and easy-going, both unyielding and laid-back – an approach that seems to work as well in Room 2 as on Long Island Sound. 

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