“One little twist … and the instrument might be in tune. One little strain, and it might be silent for ever.”
-- E. M. Forster, Howards End
I sometimes think of myself as an orchestra conductor when I’m in the classroom, which is why this quote came across to me so convincingly yesterday. My young students are instruments of the most subtle and elusive kind, and helping them make their uncommon music is the delicate duty I’ve been charged with. It’s a tricky task, because, as Forster describes, one slip-up can create complete silence instead of superb scholarly accomplishments. A word said in the wrong way, an assignment made in a hasty manner, even just a glance given in disapproval or censure – each of these can cause a young student to set aside his best ideas and settle back into silence. As a teacher, I am constantly "tuning" the students so they can “sing” their most daring and striking ideas, but it’s risky work. I still question my ability to do the job. I still wonder sometimes if I’m up to the task – if I’m of a sufficiently sympathetic and understanding nature that I can gently twist and tighten my students in just the right way so they show their distinctive brilliance.