Tuesday, January 05, 2010
TEENAGERS AND SHIFTING ICE
Ever since graduate school, I have known that being certain about goals is a necessity for good teaching, but, oddly enough, I also know that welcoming uncertainty has its benefits. This realization has come upon me slowly over the years, mostly because the immense uncertainty of all of life has steadily become clearer. Nothing whatsoever is certain, so how can I expect to be certain about outcomes of each English class? I have absolutely no idea what will happen in the very next moment, so thinking I can be sure about what will happen step-by-step in class is nothing more than make-believe. To me, teaching often seems similar to crossing a frozen river in early spring. It’s important to be well-prepared for each class (and a detailed lesson plan is part of that preparation), just as a person traversing spring ice would want to be properly geared-up and organized for the adventure – but both the teacher and the ice traveler must realize that anything could happen at any moment. Pack ice cracks and shifts, and so do lesson plans; open water can suddenly appear beneath your feet, and suddenly, in the middle of class, a new path for the lesson can open up. Both the teacher and the traveler must be prepared, but also flexible – intense and focused, but also foot-loose and freewheeling. You can’t walk on shifting ice floes with an unbending mind-set, and you can’t teach teenagers if you’re overly anxious to reach precise goals. Walking on a frozen river in April is a haphazard and hazardous undertaking, and so is teaching.