Saturday, November 27, 2010


Many years ago, when I was complaining that a certain student was lazy and unmotivated, a wise colleague replied, “You don’t know him at all, so don’t pretend to.” It was a shocking and somewhat upsetting statement, but as we talked about it for a few minutes, I realized he was right. I was the student’s English teacher, and all I really knew about him was how he performed in my class. For me to pretend that I could see into his life and learn about his motives and inner failings was the essence of foolishness. My colleague had come to my rescue and shown me the simple truth that talking about the personal lives of students as though I actually know what I’m talking about is stupidity bordering on nastiness. What I know about my students resembles what I knew about the Grand Canyon when, some years back, I stood at the rim staring out at the vastness. What I knew about the canyon was what I saw, nothing more, and the same is true of my relationship with my students. To me, each of them is a greater mystery than the Grand Canyon, and every bit as concealed from my understanding. I know how they score on tests and whether they can compose a thorough essay, but beyond that, my friend was right: I don’t know them at all.

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