Saturday, January 22, 2011


“All earthly things have their lull: even on nights when the most unappeasable wind is raging, there will be a moment of stillness before it crashes among the boughs again...”
-- George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life

This sentence suggests important counsel for anyone teaching teenagers: be long-suffering, and look for the lulls, the moments of stillness when a certain kind of wisdom works its wizardry. There are sometimes long stretches in my classes when “the most unappeasable wind” of puzzlement is blowing among the students. These are times when poems make no sense, novels never seemed more secretive, and simple essay assignments take days to understand. It’s as if confusion itself is blustering and gusting around the classroom, sending the students brains spinning off in all directions. It could also be a time of unrest for the teacher (“Will they ever understand this story?”), unless he understands what Eliot understood – that “lull[s]” will always unfold with reliability, sometimes in the precise center of a storm, and that even-tempered patience is essential. I’ve seen it happen on countless occasions – when a wild wind outside suddenly gives way to motionlessness and silence, and when a class of confused students recognizes, out of the blue, a deep meaning in a poem. In class, it’s like sunshine and stillness suddenly showing up in the heart of hurricane.

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