Friday, August 27, 2010

Great Branches

I love to consider how many ideas unfold during one of my English classes, and I often compare the process to the unfolding of the seeds of trees. In a 48-minute class period, it’s possible that something like 45,000 ideas come to life in my classroom (assuming a new idea every moment by each of us), and each of those ideas, no matter how we might judge their usefulness, is a seed that instantly starts to sprout. Surely we don’t notice the sprouting, or have even the faintest sense that the ideas are beginning to grow, but grow they do, each of them in their own way, speedily and impressively or slowly and secretively. No idea dies away and disappears forever; like seeds, they stay in minds (ours or those we’ve shared them with) and slowly but surely start to send out shoots. It’s wonderful to think of this, especially when I seem to be teaching a tedious and utterly undistinguished lesson. I carry on as best I can, remembering that, no matter how poorly I’m performing as a teacher, ideas are dropping around me by the hundreds – dropping, staying, and waiting (perhaps for years) to start some roots. Some of those ideas, I assure myself, are constructive and useful, and will eventually grow and give out great branches. It’s very possible – and I’m quite serious – that ideas planted in my modest English classes are now, years later, standing in some former students’ lives like stalwart trees to lean on and take shelter under. It would be nice if I could convince myself that all these fully grown ideas were originally sown by me, but the truth is they might have been sown by a song the student was thinking of during class, or a passing observation by a classmate, or even by a bird coasting past the classroom while we discussed a story. After all these years, it’s doesn’t matter to me who plants the ideas, just as long as they’re planted – and it always comforts me to realize that they surely are, each day, by the thousands.

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