Since we teachers are accustomed to asking our students to give us their attention, this year I’m going to make a major effort to give my classes my more complete attention – my affectionate attention, in fact. I say “affectionate” because I want to put some genuine friendship in my attentiveness – not so much the friendship between people, but the friendship between a teacher and whatever takes the stage in his classroom life. To me, each of my English classes seems like a stage where, over and over, surprising words are spoken and perplexing episodes take place. I often feel like I’m in a theater audience looking on, puzzling over the thoughts the students share and the paths their conversations take. I plan my lessons with care, but always some off-course wanderings carry us away for a few moments, and that’s when I wink to myself and smile, because I know it’s all okay. It has slowly come to me, over the decades, that affectionately attending to whatever comes up in class is a better way than beating my head against it. It doesn’t mean I like every off-course digression – just that I’ve learned to look for the secret strokes of luck in each of them. By paying attention, with real affection, to whatever happens to occur during class, I’m able, surprisingly, to set free the usefulness of just about everything.