Monday, February 01, 2010


I occasionally do a simple feat of magic at the start of a lesson, just to rouse up the students, but this morning I’m thinking about another kind of magic that’s sometimes present in any English class. After all, we teachers of literature deal with words, those magical parcels made of syllables and sounds. I can’t think of any natural phenomenon that contains more natural enchantment than a word. Sunrise happens miraculously each morning and a snowstorm can transform a landscape like a wizard, but even the tiniest and softest word has at least as much mysterious power. Listening to a Shakespeare sonnet read aloud in class, a student or a teacher can be secretly changed by a single group of words -– quietly altered inside where thoughts and feelings respond to the words in complex and inexplicable ways. All the thousands of words my students and I speak as we discuss our reading or writing – even the slightest words tossed out like light scraps of thoughts – have the power to rearrange our minds like a magician shuffles cards. I guess I need to tread gently when I’m in my classroom, for enchantment is happening all around. A student’s essay on the screen in front of the class can show a sentence that makes common words seem astonishing, and the last sentence in a Cather short story can change a drab day into a luminous one, at least for few magical moments.

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