Friday, October 29, 2010


“Sunday bells were a mere accident of the day, and not part of its sacredness.”
--George Eliot, in Silas Marner

When I read this sentence this morning, it occurred to me that just about everything that happens in my classroom seems more like a casual accident than a sacred event. Truth is, I don’t often see any type of sacredness or blessedness or holiness or purity in my work as a high school English teacher. What I mostly see is a seemingly haphazard, hit-or-miss assortment of activities which appear to arrive out of nowhere at the start of class and disappear without delay at the end. I plan my lessons rigorously each day, but still, I have a strong sense that uncertainty and arbitrariness are concealed beneath it all. Even when I’m operating with the most carefully polished and foolproof lesson plan, everything seems to be perilously close to confusion and chaos just below the surface. So, no, I don’t often see the sacredness Eliot speaks of, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s there. One dictionary gives this as a definition for “sacred” – “regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular group or individual” – and, by that definition, everything that happens in my classroom is sacred, for all of it is, to me, as special as a church service or a momentous ceremony. Yes, it’s just a bunch of kids and a senior-citizen teacher talking about poems or paragraphs or faulty punctuation or the power of iambic pentameter, but to me it might as well be high mass at St. Peter’s. We don’t do anything spectacular – no fancy words or sentences, no world-shattering statements, no suddenly reshaped lives – but just the same, there’s something singular and wondrous about what happens. After all, young-at-heart human beings (myself included) are thinking and speaking with all the freshness of their youthfulness, and new ideas are being born faster than we can follow them. Pages of books sometimes break open for us like shells with pearls, and we’ve all felt -- my students and I, every so often during class -- the flight of surprising and unforgettable thoughts inside us. It’s true that most of my minutes in English class are nothing like sacred – just the routines of a teacher and kids carrying out the duties of academia – but occasionally I spring awake, for some reason, and see the wonder of what we’re doing in my little classroom on a quiet country road in Connecticut.

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