“But, Lord! when you come to think of yourself, you know, and what a game you have been up to ever since you was in your own cradle, and what a poor sort of a chap you are, and how it's always either Yesterday with you, or else To-morrow, and never To- day, that's where it is!”
-- Dickens, in “The Holly-Tree”
This sentence, in the Christmas story I was reading yesterday morning, started me thinking about the “Teaching English” game I play during the school year. Actually, it got me thinking about the many different games I play each day – the “Serious Writer” game, the “Loving Father and Grandfather” game, and – most challenging of all – the “Over-worked, Much-too-busy, Constantly-fearful-and-frustrated Human Being” game. I take these games seriously and usually play them with desire and zeal, but thankfully, I’ve gradually come to realize that they are, in fact, just games. I don’t mean they aren’t serious, important, and sometimes life-changing games – just that they are still only games. Like chess, I enjoy these daily games, but, like chess, I know that if I lose at the “Loving Grandfather” game today, the earth will keep spinning, winds will keep sweeping across mountaintops, and tomorrow will bring another chance to play the delightful game. Trouble is, I sometimes forget that “Teaching English” is only a game. I often lose myself in the “seriousness” of it all – the feeling that I am engaged in a colossal and historic task that could transform forever the lives of my students. I frequently forget that, while I’m fretting over the failure of my class to comprehend the various uses of gerunds, “in the Orion Nebula,/From swirling gas, new stars are being born”**. In other words, in the biggest picture of all, my work in Room 2 at my small countryside school is simply a fun-filled, exasperating, festive, problematic, discouraging, and inspiring game. As the narrator in Dickens’ story suggests, I spend entirely too much time regretting past lessons and fussing over future ones, and not nearly enough time taking pleasure in whatever lesson I happen to be teaching – or playing – at the moment. As veteran game-players know, total focus on the game is the first prerequisite. If I’m teaching about irony in Macbeth, that should be as gripping and exciting a game as Monopoly – but still just a game. When both games are over and the players, hopefully, have had a good laugh, the sun will keep setting and rising, as always.