Wednesday, February 17, 2010


         by William Wordsworth

         The little hedgerow birds,
         That peck along the roads, regard him not.
         He travels on, and in his face, his step,
         His gait, is one expression: every limb,
         His look and bending figure, all bespeak
         A man who does not move with pain, but moves
         With thought. — He is insensibly subdued
         To settled quiet: he is one by whom
         All effort seems forgotten ; one to whom
         Long patience hath such mild composure given,  
         That patience now doth seem a thing of which
         He hath no need. He is by nature led
         To peace so perfect that the young behold
         With envy, what the Old Man hardly feels.

         I have loved this poem for many years, and have always secretly harbored the hope that I could someday be like Wordsworth’s “Old Man”, especially in my work as a teacher. As a senior citizen, I am already an officially old man, and I’d like to learn how to do oldness with the “patience” and “mild composure” of this man. I’m not quite sure why, but I’m quite happy to be an old teacher, perhaps for some of the same reasons that this man seems happy. As the years have passed, I have found more “settled quiet” in my teaching, more opportunity to “move[]/ With thought” rather than with stress and strain and pain. Teaching seems more like the capricious breezes of spring than the somewhat stormy seasons of my earlier years in the classroom. In a way, it’s even rather nice that my students, like the “hedgerow birds” in the poem, sometimes seem to not even notice me in the classroom. I don’t mean that they’re more disrespectful or unruly than in earlier years; in fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Like the poet’s old man, perhaps I don’t “stand out” in my classroom precisely because I “fit in” more now than in the early days of my career.  I’m no longer a jarring, strident, and strange outsider to the kids, but simply an old teacher who quietly shares his wisdom with them. They “peck along the roads” of education, and I’m right beside them. Perhaps they’re even a little comforted by the “long patience” I’ve gained over the years. I work hard, but I don’t do much rushing or dashing or stressing anymore. Teaching has become such a gentle process for me that, indeed, it sometimes feels like “[a]ll effort seems forgotten”.

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