I sometimes stop at a park overlooking the Connecticut River to see the small boats of a beginners sailing class in the distance, and it usually starts me thinking about my students. Far off, I see the undersized sails fluttering and tilting as they follow a small powerboat, upon which (though I can’t see for sure) the sailing instructor is no doubt standing and gesturing. I hear his voice, very faintly, as he calls out commands and directions and occasionally sounds an air horn. Around and back the small boats go, sailing in circles, slanting and leaning, learning their lessons. Now and then the sounds of yells and laughter float across the river and up the hill to where I sit with thoughts about my students in English class. They, too, are learning to “sail”, in a sense, as they maneuver their way through stories and poems and their weekly writing assignments. As the teacher, I’m in the “lead boat”, delivering the day’s instructions: “Be sure to use transitions between paragraphs.” “Focus on whoever is talking.” “Let’s read page 16.” Like the boats with their young sailors on the river, my students must lean this way and that as the winds of the words they’re listening to or writing or reading blow strong or soft. When writing, they must let out the sails of their sentences in certain places, but write cautiously, pulling the words in snuggly, in others. It’s arduous and tense work, this sailing and studying English, and I sympathize with the young sailors and students. Sailing a dinghy on a broad, blustery river is no simple task, and neither is steering through a year’s worth of sundry and sometimes utterly surprising English lessons.
© 2010 Hamilton Salsich