Thursday, December 02, 2010


One of the pleasures of spending four decades in the classroom is slowly coming to realize that English teachers are essentially first-class tricksters. As a small boy, I decided I wanted to grow up to be a magician, and the miracle is that I’ve done just that. Each day I dare to do all sorts of tricks for my students in the hope that the magic of learning will, in some small ways, remake their lives. I don’t use ropes or coins or cards – just my unembellished words and gestures as I try to turn my no-frills classroom into a wizard’s place of work. In point of fact, all of us English teachers are toying with magic – with the enchanting and unexplained -- as we work with our students. Just the solitary accomplishment of understanding a line in a Shakespeare sonnet is an act of magic, a stroke of mystery and miracle. One moment a student sees only darkness in the words on the page, and in the next moment a mighty light shines from the same words. Is this not an act of magic? And is it not magic when a student sees the world of 1940’s white supremacy arising before him as he reads some sentences from Invisible Man? The student sits in a nondescript classroom out in the countryside of Connecticut, but through the wizardry of words, he’s more altogether present in the hostile city with Ellison’s storyteller. I don’t give myself much credit for creating the magic that occurs in my classroom, for most of it resides in the words we read and speak – words which might as well be wands, since just speaking or reading them can occasionally – presto! – reshuffle our lives.

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