January 4th, 2009

Interesting words

"I taught at two boys' schools, as you know, for a year and a half before going to work in a bank as a clerk. I thought the long vacation would provide me with the time to read and write, but I found the teaching took so much out of me that I had no desire to work during the vacations. To hold the classes' attention, you must project your personality on them, and some people enjoy doing that; I couldn't, it took too much out of me. You must have a vocation for it."
T. S. Eliot


TSE's comment about teaching really interests me. He talks about the exhaustion caused by the need to project one's personality on a class of students. I really like his point, as I see good teaching as directly connected to the willingness or talent to project one's personality over a room of young people. If you divided teachers into two categories, those who do that and those who don't, I think you would find very few successful teachers in the "don't" list. Those who do that projection may vary in techniques enormously, but they all can strongly dominate a class. I had a very successful colleague once who never did anything, seemingly, other than sit quietly at a table in front of the students and talk in a quiet voice. Also, what he said he would do, he did. The students loved him and gloried in being in his classes. As for myself, I am a high energy classroom teacher. I use intelligence, knowledge and humor to interact with the classes, and I also try to do what I say. For the most part, my students react very positively to my style. Also, they tend to connect to me personally over the years in ways that would have been unheard of when I was young. I think I am weakening as I age, but I think I am as powerful a teacher as ever.

I also think that when schools get great teachers who are examples of this talent, the administration should stand back and get out of the way. Let great teachers be themselves. We have lost some star teachers because they were not happy in their relationship to the school, even though the teaching was wonderful. The man I mentioned above was one of them.

Better than the alternative...

The first significant age is probably 16, when the old driving license becomes more than a dream of independence. Then 17 pops up, when a person can legally watch R rated movies without parent permission. Then a biggie: 18, when the state grants legal adulthood. Voting. No more juvenile diversion in the courts, etc. To some of us that is a creative fiction. For us it is 21 that signals adulthood, as it always had well beyond our own age of majority. I still, in my heart, do not grant 18 the significance my students give it. The age of 21 is still important, though, as it is the alcohol age, the last remnant of youth dying away on that birthday. After 21 there really aren't any significant ages until many years pass, though young adults THINK that 30 has some meaning to it. The next one is the biggie -- 65.

Now, I know that youse guys think that 67 or 70 is the big retirement age. And my own full retirement is one year from now at 66. BUT when I was a kid, the universal age for old age was 65. Retirement. Social Security. Nothing has changed from 1950 where the two big ages are concerned, 21 and 65.

And there I am, as of six hours from now. Erggh.