Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mt. Elzy

Dear Friends,



Thanksgiving break is coming. The words themselves represent an alleluia to a first year teacher. Combine that with my coming home to Michigan to all my favorite people…you get the idea. At this moment that is the pillar of fire that is guiding me through the night. As for teaching:

Kurt Vonnegut once said of writing that for him it felt like he had no limbs and were trying to compose with a crayon in his mouth. I agree with that statement, and find it also applies to teaching. At times I’m looking at a text, or a lesson, and feel like I know nothing. I look and look and have to realize again and again that the way that I learn is not the way that I can teach this material. The difficulty in teaching someone younger, versus a peer or an elder, is that the assumed background knowledge is absent. Leveraging the existing background knowledge of students is the job of a teacher, but finding creative ways to do this while still creating new knowledge is one of the most profound challenges I’ve encountered.

In writing, in conversation and in life I have difficulty in deciding what is actually necessary. This in part because I found tangential and referential knowledge so engaging (see all those years I spent with T.S. Eliot). I guess one strategy I could employ would be to make numerous obtuse allusions and continue to teach characterization with them as a kind of seasoning…ha…ha.

Finding the right words and right amount of inquiry is where the work is. One cannot simply stand in front of students and ask them to read something and expect them to contribute ideas (though we literature people sometimes feel that the text calls up so many questions this is exactly what should happen).

Tomorrow I will stumble to the canvas again with my crayon…that is after I finish grading the mountain of papers on my kitchen table.

-Andrew