Monday, May 31, 2010

A Gentle Empire

In one of John Keats’ poems, he uses the phrase “gentle empire”, which I love because it suggests exactly the kind of classroom atmosphere I try to maintain. It has to be an empire, and I have to be the emperor, because today’s teenagers badly need adults to stand at the helm and steer the ship. For some mystifying reason, many adults these days have deserted their posts of leadership and seem to be trembling somewhere behind the children in their care, but not in Room 2 at my school. Inside that 9th grade classroom is Mr. Salsich’s empire, where the children are simply what children always are – badly informed, bewildered, fearful, and sometimes utterly off course – and where the adult is what an adult should be – in charge. However, there’s room for gentleness in the best of empires. A ruler can be both commanding and good-natured, both forceful and affable, and so can an English teacher. I hope my students see my classroom empire as a place where strict rules are nicely balanced by optimism and cheerfulness. However, it's still an empire. I am my students’ guide and boss, not their friend, mostly because friendship is not what they need from me. They get friendship from other 14-year-olds; from me they need leadership – not the kind that browbeats and pesters, but the kind that both pushes and praises, both makes the laws and gently lets the spirits of his students rise higher and higher.

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