Wednesday, May 11, 2011


At a faculty meeting the other day, I suddenly had the distinct feeling that we were all playing the old “let’s pretend” game from childhood, and it reminded me of what I often feel when I’m teaching. My colleagues and I were discussing various approaches to the teaching of writing, and it sounded like we were all quite sure that what we were saying had substance and merit – that we, in other words, knew exactly what we were talking about. We were politely agreeable toward each other, but still, it seemed like we were each quite sure that our opinions were the proper ones. “Sure of ourselves” might be a good way to describe what we sounded like. Oddly enough, I, who was easily the oldest and most experienced teacher at the meeting, felt totally unsure of myself. It seemed – and this is a feeling I often have -- like I was simply pretending to know something about teaching writing, like I was a surgeon who had no clue what he was doing but was an expert at making-believe. In fact, toward the end of the meeting, it all seemed quite funny, in a harmless sort of way. I chuckled on my way to the car as I thought of the humorous show we had all put on. I don’t mean to suggest that any of us were being insincere in our comments, or that we were purposely pretending. It’s just that, more and more, the entire enterprise of teaching other human beings seems as complicated as studying the movements of distant galaxies, and for any of us to suggest that we have discovered the best way to do it seems like the height of foolishness. It’s like saying we know precisely why the wind was moving across our arms the way it did yesterday at 9:21 am, or where exactly a certain summer sky came from. Teaching, to me, is a magical mystery tour, and, quite honestly, I have no sure understanding of how to do it well. I try my best each day, but it’s a little like trying to make the sun shine in a certain way. I can pretend the sunshine and my students are transforming because of my instruction, but the truth, of course, is something vastly different.

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