Saturday, February 20, 2010


“…himself he feels,          
In those vast regions where his service lies,          
A freeman, wedded to his life of hope          
And hazard, and hard labour interchanged          
With that majestic indolence so dear          
To native man.”
--Wordsworth, Book VII, “The Prelude”

         My work as an English teacher takes place in a small, nondescript classroom on a commonplace country road, and yet I often (almost every day) feel like I’m laboring in “vast regions”, to quote from Wordsworth’s lines above. He’s talking about solitary shepherds among the hills and valleys of England, but I might as well be a shepherd as I attempt to herd, persuade, guide, and sometimes simply drive my young students toward the goals I set for them. It’s often a solitary feeling, too – the sense that it’s just the students and I alone in a wilderness of spoken and written words. We wander here and there in our discussions as we try to find meaning in poems and stories, with me circling, prodding, containing, rousing, and stimulating. As the students write their weekly essays, they, too, probably feel like shepherds – or border collies – as they attempt to push their unruly words into reasonably recognizable paragraphs. However – though I’m not sure the students feel this way – I feel like a total “freeman” as I go about this sometimes lonely, hit-and-miss work of teaching. There’s “hazard” in the job, of course (wilting lessons, inscrutable students, parents on the prowl), but there’s more than enough “hope” (lessons like missiles, kids with grins to give away) to balance things out. I put in a great amount of “hard labour”, but I always find, to my amazement, a feeling of “majestic indolence” floating through me at odd moments during class. I often pause in the midst of a class and take a few seconds, privately, to express my thanks for my good life as a classroom shepherd. While kids in my care are sharing thoughts about a topic, I sometimes sit smiling in the classroom rocking chair -- a fortunate, privileged, prosperous 68-year-old guide and guardian. 

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