“ … her pliancy had ended in her sometimes taking shapes of
-- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
As the years have passed, I’ve tried, with some success, to become more pliable in my teaching, which is why I was particularly struck when I read the above words today. In the novel, Mrs. Gascoigne’s pliancy is not always constructive, but for a teacher it can be a useful and rewarding attribute. I guess I’ve gradually learned to be more elastic, bending and bowing with the students as we do our work. I’ve become better at adjusting and fine-tuning myself during a 48-minute class. When I’m teaching, I often think of trees and sailors – trees for their unfailing flexibility in winds of all kinds, and sailors for their judicious management of sails in shifting weathers. I picture myself as an old but limber beech tree – limbs grown long and large over the years, but still as flexible as ever, bending stylishly in breezes or storms. Teaching English to teenagers can be an unsettled, even tempestuous, enterprise, and suppleness is a necessity. I’ve noticed that old trees sometimes bend the best, and I’m hoping that might be true for old teachers, too. I also see myself, on certain days, as a sailor in a small ship with my students. Whatever the “weather” of the classroom throws at us – rowdy ideas, , unmanageable lesson plans, and assorted other surprises – the old teacher-captain has to be pliant enough to change plans, alter course, shift sails, and work with, instead of against, the conditions present in the classroom. I think of myself, sometimes, as a kind of “Elastic-man”, able to change shape and style at will, always ready to coil and curl and change directions as the students and I work through a lesson plan. Perhaps I should do mental aerobics before class, just to prepare my mind to be extra-flexible in the face of my fanciful and capricious teenager thinkers.