Monday, November 01, 2010

Dimming My Headlights

In the morning darkness today, I occasionally had to dim my headlights to make it easier for oncoming drivers to see their way ahead, and it started me thinking about my students and their need for a clear road to follow in the sometimes mystifying darkness of English class. We read books that can bring on a cloud of confusion and obscurity, and the writing projects I assign can produce the kind of puzzlement a nighttime driver might experience when faced with oncoming bright lights on a dark road. I purposefully put the students into these murky situations, because it often fashions a wonderful kind of learning, but at times I need to soften the lights of my own senior-citizen, seasoned-teacher wisdom so the kids can see where they’re going. It’s all too easy for me to metaphorically speed along the roads of my lessons with my 68-year-old knowledge shining its brightest lights, but that often makes it almost impossible for the students to steer a successful course. Faced with my almost constant stream of advice, suggestions, directions, instructions, and opinions, it’s not surprising that the students occasionally lose their way and wonder where in the world they are. It sounds strange, but the truth is that I can sometimes be the best kind of teacher by dimming the lights of my own ideas, sometimes even turning them off completely. When kids are lost in misunderstanding and perplexity, the last thing they need is the imperious intellect of the teacher shining straight into their eyes. Maybe, in fact, they sometimes need total darkness, so their own promising thoughts can start to throw some youthful light on the road before them.

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