Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lingering -- and Lightening Up

Since I’ve been thinking (and talking and writing) a lot lately about clearing away what I call the “underbrush” in my teaching – those many persnickety rules, guidelines, theories, methods, strategies, skills, and concepts that are relatively inconsequential and that make it difficult, sometimes, to see the really essential truths about teaching, a colleague asked me the other day just exactly what are these essential truths, and, at that point, I could only come up with one: A good teacher never rushes. It seemed utterly simple when I said it -- maybe too simple and even commonplace and corny -- but I stand by it. If I could learn how to always do the opposite of rushing – to sort of calmly linger and loiter in my teaching rather than hurry here and there through lesson after lesson – I might start approaching the kind of teaching I’ve always wanted to do. Rushing never fails to fill a class (and me) with disquiet and a certain amount of dread, whereas hanging around a lesson, staying behind for a few moments among the skills or concepts being taught and taking some last slow looks, almost always creates a calmness that can’t help but make learning an easier and more nourishing process. If this means I don’t accomplish as much in a class period as I might if I rushed, then that’s what it means. I can live with that because it also means I’ve let students let go of some of the weights of worry and tension they tow around with them day by day. Taking our time with a poem – walking quietly among the words, perhaps over and over, until we actually hear what they’re saying – is a good way to both listen in on the poem’s message and also lighten up our lives somewhat. Perhaps, in fact, lightening up is what I’m talking about here – teaching in such an unhurried and unruffled manner that the students mental burdens (which, in teens, are always many) are lessened somewhat so the essential messages of English class can come through. Maybe I should hang a sign on my door: “Quiet please. Lightening up in progress.”

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