Thursday, July 08, 2010
Pronouns can be helpful words (there’s a bunch in this paragraph) but I wish I could use the first person singular a little less when I’m thinking about teaching. Of course, they’re a convenience in talking and writing, but when I’m thinking about the nature of the work I do with my young students, the use of those pronouns suggests that I’m thinking about teaching in a way that I just don’t like. It suggests an overly personal approach to the work, as though the person called “I” is terribly important – more important, it sometimes seems, than the teaching and learning that happens in the room. With this first-person-singular attitude, it’s “my” classroom and “my” students. The lesson plans are “my” plans, as though I somehow own the ideas in the plans, and when things go well, it’s often what “I” accomplished as a teacher instead of what the kids accomplished as students. I realize I may be playing semantics here, but still, I find my constant use of these first person pronouns a plague in my thinking about teaching. Why does it have to be “my” classroom instead of just “the” classroom – a place where the learning is not owned and engineered by any one person but is shared by all? And why, for heaven’s sake, are they “my” students, implying that I have some strange type of ownership of them. They are simply students, not owned by anyone except their own freewheeling strength of mind. And “my” lesson plans? Don’t I borrow all of my ideas – yes, all of them – from outside sources, including colleagues, articles, books, and on-line discussions? I may remake them a bit, but they are still rightfully “owned” by the countless hidden sources from which they sprang. Since when are they “mine” and not simply shared ideas found at the infinite fountain of teaching know-how? Of course, I do play a significant part in the learning that occurs among my students, but only in the way a passing breeze plays a part in the general wind that’s blowing across my yard as I type. Imagine a breeze announcing, “This wind is my wind and all the breezes in it are mine.” It might actually make an interesting children’s story, and the moral would be that self-importance is a foolish path to follow. All breezes are equally important as they work with the larger winds of the world, and the gray and slightly stooped teacher and his students in Room 2 are equally important as they stir up some English education together.