Monday, March 08, 2010


“Her thoughts generally were the oddest mixture of clear-eyed acumen and blind dreams.”
         -- George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

         As a teacher, I hope my thoughts can be like Maggie Tulliver’s in Eliot’s novel – a mishmash of realism and reverie. Certainly I must stay focused on the everyday necessities of English teaching, but I never want to abandon my gift for far-flung daydreaming and air-castle-building. Teaching, especially English teaching, must be founded on both practicality and pipe-dreaming, both a willingness to do the necessary step-by-step plodding and a keenness for jumping off the edge into deep water. It’s my responsibility to teach the proper procedures for punctuating a sentence, but it’s also my responsibility to dream up daring lessons and  heroic assignments now and then.  I often wonder if some veteran English teachers find their days drifting into tedium as the years pass – and if they do, I can recommend Maggie’s way of thinking.  We need to have at least as many “blind dreams” as orderly lesson plans if we are to keep our teaching infused with airiness and sparkle. When planning a lesson, perhaps we should occasionally stretch out in the grass after dinner and give the stars the duty of deciding how we proceed – or perhaps our 10-year-old child could choose precisely what 9th graders would love to learn about the poems of Emily Dickinson. Good teaching requires discipline and doggedness, but it also requires a willingness to take wing now and then and shout to your students to follow.   

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