Friday, November 19, 2010

High Speeds in English Class

 (To my students:
The bell word is in red, echoes in blue.)

I’ve written often about the apparent lethargy and listlessness in some of my classes – the sense I often get that everything in the classroom, including the students and I, is on the very threshold of sleep – but, at the same time, it’s fun to remember that, actually, everything in the room is constantly on the move, and sometimes at fairly high speeds. For one thing, scientists tell us that every element of our body is ceaselessly moving. The countless atomic and subatomic particles zoom here and there without rest, causing the entire body to be a swirl of constant activity, even when a student is sitting in a haze of daydreams in his chair. The student seems to be entirely stationary and still, but science shows us something different, the streams and spirals of non-stop motion that make up the student who seems ready for a snooze. Also, isn’t the earth my classroom rests on speeding around at rather blistering speeds? While my students are sometimes staying awake with only their finest efforts, the earth beneath us is careering around on its axis at roughly 1,000 miles per hour, while at the same time racing around the sun at a blazing 67,000 miles per hour! It’s almost impossible to believe that sentence, to accept the fact that we are all passengers on a ship moving at unthinkable speeds, even during a lackluster English class – but it seems to be the truth. This brings encouragement to me in the minutes after the last class on a day of fairly lifeless teaching, minutes when I sometimes wonder why I ever thought I could be a good teacher. As I’m sitting in the empty classroom offering condolences to myself, it sometimes comes to me that, whether we know it or not, my students and I are always voyagers on a journey that defies description. While I’m having only small success spelling out the meaning of a Dickens paragraph, the good ship Earth is sailing so fast it’s a wonder we can keep ourselves in our seats.

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