Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I wonder if I might learn something about teaching by studying the procedures of sailors on a ship. Some Navy friends told me recently that, when they are carrying out their various nautical responsibilities, they don’t use personal names to address each other, but rather the specific duties of each person. As one woman told me, it’s not who you are that’s important, but what you do.  Hence, someone named Jim Smith might be referred to as HM2 (his job), as in, “Hey, HM2, can you give me a hand?” My friends explained that this serves to downplay the independence and separateness of each person, and instead reminds the sailors that togetherness is more important than individuality, that the team is more crucial than any single player. Of course, my English classes are not closely akin to military units, and I am certainly not suggesting that the individuality of my students is not of critical importance, but still, there’s something to be learned from the team approach used by the Navy. The senior-citizen person named “Hamilton Salsich” – an individual with innumerable likes and dislikes and a 68-year history of ups and downs and sorrows and triumphs – is not nearly as important in Room 2 as “the teacher of literature and writing”. That’s my job – “what I do” – and all that’s important, really, is that the job gets done, day after day, with as much excellence as possible. Never mind who my parents were or what happened at home last night or what personal burdens I may be carrying; what counts is the job  -- teaching English to the teenagers who come to my classroom each day.  Does this mean that I should be a frosty and aloof kind of teacher? On the contrary, leaving my personal life at the door might actually mean that I can to do my important job with a greater sense of allegiance, loyalty, and therefore exuberance.  After all, teaching is, above all, about being dedicated to others – the students – and that kind of dedication should lead to an intense passion for the work. When there’s a higher goal than mere individual, personal pleasure – as there is in the military and should be in teaching – there exists the prospect of seriously ardent and grand endeavors.

 © 2010 Hamilton Salsich

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