Wednesday, August 11, 2010


In my attempt this summer to clear away some underbrush where I live, I’ve gradually hacked my way toward a very old oak tree, and, coincidentally, in my planning for the upcoming school year I seem to be clearing a path toward some old, trustworthy truths about teaching. This oak I speak of is truly gigantic – a great god in this forest of mostly middle aged trees. It measures 16 feet in circumference, and our best estimate (with the help of a few experts) puts its age at around 200 years. The undergrowth – the snaky climbers and creepers of all kinds – has gradually gained control of the area around the tree, and only this summer have I been able to beat back the brush and actually come close to this stately old tree. This morning, as I stood in its vast shadow, the mental work I’ve done this summer about the art of teaching – the attempts I’ve made to bring to the fore the few essential truths I need to remember about working with kids in a classroom --     came back to me. Those few truths – those old verities that may have sprung first from Socrates – seem this summer to be as imposing as our old oak. As I’ve worked my way through my beliefs about teaching, I’ve come closer to seeing the small number of truly necessary principles that provide for preeminent teaching and learning. And what are they? Opinions will differ, and mine may change tomorrow, but today I would say just three central qualities – three old oak trees, if you will – are essential in a fine teacher: total love for the work, absolute attentiveness to each student, and unflagging patience. No matter what else goes awry this year – no matter how many “vines” start bamboozling me and making my work seem crowded and complex – I can look to those three basic, ancient, steadfast requirements for good teaching (and I can go out back and look at the loyal oak when I need a reminder).

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