Monday, September 24, 2012


     I was talking with a friend recently about uncertainty (how, as teachers, it seems impossible to be certain that we know what we are doing), and he brought up the idea of “tolerance”.  Among engineers, he said, there’s always what they call a “degree of tolerance” to account for the impossibility of absolute certainty. Engineers can never be certain their measurements are perfect, so some allowance must be made for surprise deviations. Because of this, they must constantly recalculate and reevaluate their measurements; nothing is ever absolutely set in stone. This led me back to teaching – to the fact that, after years and years of teaching, I feel more uncertain than ever about what I’m doing in the classroom, or what I’m supposed to be doing. This teaching enterprise seems, more and more, like a strangely impossible business – almost like  steering through outer space with blinders on. I pretendthat I know what I’m doing, but, to be perfectly honest, that’s just a role I comfortably play. The truth is I’m lost in a mystifying maze. What’s wonderful, though, is that it’s a rather magnificent maze. Because I’ve accepted the fact that I ultimately have little clue as to what teaching adolescents is really all about, I’m able to relax, so to speak, and take some pleasure in the ride. I guess I’ve learned, like the engineers, to allow for a degree of tolerance. My “measurements” (learning theories, lesson plans, objectives, etc) could be slightly off or totally off, and I need to be always ready to make adjustments and switch plans. I need to be tolerant of my ignorance. In humility, I need to bear, abide, and accept the uncertainty that is part of an honest teacher’s life.

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