Monday, August 16, 2010

Countless Varieties of Walking (and thinking, reading, writing, etc.)

My son was telling me today about the countless distinctive gaits of people walking on the busy sidewalk beside his house, and we agreed that there’s a helpful analogy about teaching somewhere in that observation. (He’s a third-grade teacher.) He described a man who walks like he’s in a state of complete tranquility, and another who stares absorbedly at every car as it passes him. There are bouncing walkers, flimsy walkers, rusty-machine-like walkers, and stiff and steadfast walkers – and Jonah says there seems to be no repetition whatsoever. Each strider comes along with his or her matchless style and inimitable aura of uncommonness and significance. As we enjoyed lunch together, we talked about the fact that each of our students is as unique as those incomparable walkers. We also admitted that, unfortunately, their uniqueness is often – maybe very often – hard for we teachers to notice. Buried as I sometimes get in the minutiae of standards and lessons and goals, it’s easy to see my students as just a group of average, everyday kids, instead of irreplaceable human beings each carrying a universe of unparalleled traits. Like the walkers passing my son’s house, my students (and all students, and all people) do everything in a rare and extraordinary manner, whether it’s walking, reading, writing, thinking, or even just raising their arms or smiling at someone or glancing out the window or breathing in and out. Trouble is, I’m often (maybe usually) too preoccupied with my teaching duties to notice the individual marvels sitting in my classroom. Perhaps I need to do what Jonah occasionally does – just sit and watch. He’s a painter as well as a teacher, so he watches to learn about shapes and forms and motions, and maybe I need to watch to learn about the immeasurable varieties of youthful life that pulsate before me as I go about my teaching tasks.

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