“I thought I saw everything, and was stone-blind all the while.”
-- George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life
This aching cry -- by a self-important patrician who has lost a loved one and seen the truth about himself -- reminds me of roughly the first half of my teaching career. Like Sir Christopher in Eliot’s story, “I thought I saw everything” – knew all about kids and books and writing and teaching. For my first many years in the classroom, I considered myself the savior of any student who came to me. In my mind, I was just what every student needed -- a wise and witty and sometimes half crazy and always in-your-face tough but lovable teacher. With this haughty, puffed-up attitude, I was euphorically floating through my career from day to day and year to year. I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point in mid-career I suddenly understood, like a blaze of sunshine, how ignorant I really was. I had thought I was brilliant, but in the brightness of this new understanding, I saw that I was little more than just plain dense. I saw that I knew next to nothing about these inscrutable adolescent people I was supposed to be teaching. I saw that all my bravado and bluster was no more substantial than the costumes of a clown. This realization was an epiphany of the first order, and it forced me to, in effect, start all over as a fresh and unschooled novice teacher – in my early 50’s. I’m still finding my way now, at 69, still seeing, moment by moment, what I never saw before – the sheer mysteriousness of this indispensable work I’ve been trying to do.