Friday, January 29, 2010


         Reading a bit of “The Prelude” this morning, I came across the passage where Wordsworth describes the village people in France as being “pleased with [their] daily task[s], or, if not pleased/ Contented…”, and I quickly realized that that is exactly what I hope for my students. Realistically, I can’t hope that they will be pleased with every English class, or even with any English class. We climb some rugged literary mountains in class, and the writing the students are required to do is more like constructing a solid house from scratch than throwing up an umbrella on the beach. English class is an arduous workout rather than a walk in the park, and what teenager would feel genuinely pleased while doing demanding mental calisthenics? I do hope, however, that my students, like Wordsworth’s French villagers, can feel contented during my class – contented because they know they are doing what they should be doing, and what will probably bring some benefits -- at least down the road. Some of us feel contented at the gym even as we force ourselves to go harder on the treadmill, because we know we need the exercise, and I hope my students, at least occasionally, feel contented in a similar way. If someone asked them if they were happy to come to English class each day, truthfully I imagine most would say no, but I would hope they might say they were “okay” with it. Perhaps they would say, “I hate the hard work, but I can accept it.” That kind of attitude would make a perfect atmosphere for class -- a full awareness of the wearying labor involved in reading great works of literature and writing weighty essays, and yet a peaceful acceptance of it because it’s simply what must be done for 48 minutes each day, and because, just maybe, there might be some compensation involved. Maybe they’ll reach the “summit” of Macbeth and enjoy the startling view, or maybe they’ll build an essay that’s as sturdy and stylish as a palace.

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