Thursday, September 22, 2011


"The Long Table", oil, by Liza Hirst
I recall a poem about a table that was so huge that it could conveniently carry an infinite number of objects on its surface, and I sometimes think of such a vast and tolerant table when I’m teaching my middle school students. In fact, I occasionally see myself as a quiet, uncomplaining table upon which my students can set down their ideas and talents as readers and writers. In a way, an English teacher should be so vast and sturdy, like a one-of-a-kind table, that he can carry whatever the students might bring to class, even the craziest ideas and least disciplined feelings. In this analogy, I don’t really have to do much except make myself available as a resting place or storage space for the limitless lives my students bring to class. This, of course, includes their less-appealing thoughts and feelings, the ones other folks might think are dim-witted or downright silly. The English teacher’s table should be big enough to carry all the stuff of the students’ inner lives, whatever they want to bring with them through my door. Dump it all down on my table, I want to say to them; we may not deal with it all, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make room for it. As I think about it, it does seem there is something patient and peaceful about a teacher who is like a table – something that welcomes wandering students and the mental baggage they bring with them. This kind of teacher is not always talking and teaching, but sometimes simply waiting and receiving, like a trustworthy table. Come in, students, I might say. Unload your life a little. Pile your thoughts up and let us ponder them awhile.

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