On Reading / On Writing / The English Teacher / Uncategorized

“Teachers Will Tell You…”

Another semester behind me, and a few hours for reflection seem not only reasonable, but required. How can I be effective if I never think about what I do, what ought to be done, and how best to make that happen?

After 20 years in a classroom, I’d find it easy to think I’ve most assuredly ‘arrived.’ But each year, I’m different. I’ve read more books, acted (sometimes quite foolishly) and considered more consequences, asked more questions, thought more thoughts. The world, though most assuredly the same (there is nothing new under the sun, after all) somehow changes too.

And the students change. Yes, they still go through the rudimentaries. Yes, they still learn a few (or many!) things about literature, about history, about the wonder of words. But today, they are far more likely to tweet a thought in 140 characters or less. Today they are far more inclined to post a picture and let the 1000 words go… How can I persuade them otherwise? How can I entice them? How can I show them what they may have been missing on their way to language reduction? How can I convince them that the best words take time to read, and to write? How can I show them that convenience and short-cuts and expediency might fail them? How do I illuminate the difference between genuine understanding and rote acquisition (and the inevitable lack of retention) of mere information?

C.S. Lewis, one of the world’s finest teachers, points out in Mere Christianity that

Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, that lazy boy is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other boy understands, and positively enjoys, in a few minutes. Laziness means more work in the long run. Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.”

Learning, always, takes effort. A bit of head-banging may ensue. Some level of frustration might transpire. Tears? Cursing? Threatening to quit? Well, yes! I imagine students might do the same. (go ahead and insert a smiley face here) Learning challenges, stimulates, overwhelms. Why? Because it matters. Because it’s good. Because it’s hard work.

But Lewis also instructs that, “If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come” (from the sermon “Learning in War-time”).

Teachers don’t wait for ‘favorable’ conditions to teach — not the ones I know, love, esteem. They dig in to their own learning first. Then those same teachers find the best way to reach the most students, inspiring them to love learning, to dig deep, discover the riches awaiting them and be forever changed. Even though there’s nothing ‘new under the sun,’ all that has ever been or is under it even now, is worth learning.

Any teacher will tell you that.



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