“What in me is dark
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1
Like most teachers, I occasionally fuss and upset myself over what exactly I’m supposed to be doing – just what this bewildering line of work is actually all about – but every so often these wonderful words come back to me: “Just be a light.” Years ago, when I was adrift and far off-course as a novice teacher, someone gave me this advice, and it sometimes reappears in my mind, often just when the darkness is greatest – when I have no clear idea what I’m doing in the classroom (which, after 40+ years, still happens to me on a regular basis). It reminds me that being a teacher is really an astonishingly simple task. All it involves, as Milton seemed to understand, is shining a light on what’s already there, inside the students. Yes, there’s a lot of darkness in the students – the darkness of ignorance, perplexity, and miscalculation – but all darkness of any kind disappears instantly when a light shines on it. In a sense, I don’t have to add anything to my students’ inner lives, but rather just shine a light so they can see the wisdom they’ve been harboring inside them all their young lives. Of course, I teach them new concepts and skills, but these, I think, are simply more lights to shine on and dispel the darkness of ignorance so the astuteness of the students can shine like it should. I don’t have to change the students, or help them grow, or insert new ideas in their minds. Teaching is simply a question of lighting up their world to some extent -- essentially a rather simple task, like switching on a lamp to let a good light show what’s always been there.