“Never did captive with a freer heart
Cast off his chains of bondage and embrace
His golden uncontroll'd enfranchisement,
More than my dancing soul doth celebrate
This feast of battle with mine adversary.”
-- Shakespeare, Richard II
In a strange sort of way, I was a “captive” for most of my teaching career, in bondage to a broken-down way of thinking about this most prestigious of professions. I guess I considered a teacher to be more a policeman than an imparter of knowledge, more a swaggering actor than an unassuming partner in the pursuit of wisdom. For twenty years or so, I was wrapped up in the notion that nothing in the classroom was more important than me, not even the students. I was a sort of inmate of a very mistaken idea about this wonderful work I’m involved in. About halfway through my career, however, a liberating thought came to me – that teaching actually had nothing to do with whether I could set up a great “show” for the students each day. It wasn’t about acting or pronouncing or performing. What it was about, I realized over the course of several months, was simply standing subserviently aside and allowing the learning to be liberated among my students and me. The learning was there along; all I had to do was wait quietly as it quietly went about its transforming work. That period back in the '80s was a time of true deliverance for me. I felt like some shackles had dropped away. I realized that, while I still had to work very diligently if I wished to be a good teacher, there was a force afoot in my classroom that actually did all the work -- a force we could call “learning”. It was like learning was the wind, and I was steering a sailboat with my students aboard, simply shifting course now and then to catch the best of the breeze. It made, and still makes, teaching to be more full of fun than effort, more a freeing exploration than a confining chore.
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