Tuesday, June 22, 2010


“A little consideration of what takes place around us every day would show us, that a higher law than that of our will regulates events; that our painful labors are unnecessary, and fruitless; that only in our easy, simple, spontaneous action are we strong, and by contenting ourselves with obedience we become divine.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws”

My dad used to tell me that will power is all that is needed to achieve success, but now, after four decades as a teacher, I actually wish I had less will power, for it sometimes impedes the teaching and learning in my classroom. I am not a church-going person, but, like Emerson, I have the feeling that a far greater power than my paltry will is operating among my students and me. My “painful labors” to be the best teacher I can possibly be seem strangely insignificant when compared to the other far more impressive and immeasurable forces that circulate through my classroom each day. I’m like a tiny swimmer using all my theories and lesson plans and goals and objectives to battle upstream in a river, when the sensible option would be to relax and float where the strong, smooth-flowing currents of learning take my students and me. Of course, like a serious swimmer, I must train and prepare myself for each day’s work in the classroom, but I must also remember to let the “river” – the universal and ever-present power of learning -- do the major share of the work. It’s a widespread and magnificent river, and no teacher should have the foolishness or willfulness to think he can do better than respectfully and gracefully follow where it leads. To a well-trained and wise swimmer, swimming in even the most formidable currents is “easy, simple, [and] spontaneous”, and so it should be in English class.

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