Walking on the beach this morning with Delycia, I spotted and saved several smooth white stones, and later, as I saw them sitting on our blue bedspread, they brought to mind the “smoothing” process that seems so important in teaching. The stones had been smoothed down to total sleekness by the workings of the waves and tides, and the writing process we use in class seems to be a similar one of smoothing and steamrolling and pressing and leveling. The stones were once lumpy pieces of cracked rock from some mountain somewhere, somewhat like the students’ cumbersome and lumbering sentences in their first drafts – but over enough time, both the rocks and the sentences can be smoothed out to become something distinctive. The white stones that sit before me as I type are almost creamy in their utter smoothness, and sometimes I see sentences in student papers that are similarly smooth. It just takes time – decades and centuries for the sea to polish the stones, and minutes and maybe hours for the kids to create effortless and easygoing sentences. There’s something, too, to the comparison between the sea stones and my students’ young lives. The kids are being tumbled about by life the way the sea tumbles stones, and inexorably the process is smoothing and polishing the students. The smoothness their lives attain may not always be the smoothness others want for them, but life will do its smoothing work in its singular way, whether we wish it to or not. My hope for my students is that they learn to lean into the smoothing process instead of resisting it. Let life do its flattening and smoothing work with you, I want to say to the students. Let your own special smoothness and silkiness take shape, like uncommon stones in the shaping sea.
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