For the record, I did have notes for the entry I promised. I had filled the blank side of an envelope with musings on the process of reading student papers and, as of Tuesday night, it sat ready on our dining room table. Now, Thursday, I cannot for the life of me locate the envelope. I’ve pillaged all my notes, my various folders, even my “take to school stuff,” which I would never mix with my “extracurricular writing stuff.”
The envelope is nowhere to be found…
I remember that I was feeling very tender when I decided to write again. I was overcome by the very great honor that comes with reading another person’s writing. When another human being trusts you with his or her work (and yes, I would concede to maternal metaphors here, regardless of gender), it’s absolutely an honor. And that honor necessarily brings responsibility.
That’s about all I can recall now. Allowing for my typical response to such musings, I feel confident alluding to any number of the following accompanying tangents: “How can teachers NOT spend a lot of time on student papers?”; “I’m really doing a good job.”; “Will they even read my comments?”; “Wow. I wonder if I’m the first person to see this thought on paper. How should I direct the writing?”
It’s that last thought that always keeps me coming back, that makes me feel as if I have some role in my students’ writing/learning process. I return to the rhetorical, an analysis that forever asks, forever analyzes, forever angles for just the right turn of phrase, forever weighs in on the dialectical adventure that is presenting a version of self…okay, at least for this paper; it’s an autobiography…
Anyway, my students present a sliver of themselves, and I’m to analyze it? What is that?
That’s teaching. And of all the skills I might bring to the analysis of an essay, or an advertisement, or a design, or an autobiography, I’m so glad I have this tenderness. I don’t care if it makes me soft. These are lives here; these are careful, calculated expressions of self.
(Please read that last line with just a hint of Donald Sutherland as English Professor. Just a hint, mind you.)
It’s important to be gentle. It’s also important to teach.
Can rhetoric be tender? Was Aristotle ever tender? What about I. A. Richards? Burke? Charles Darwin?
And as long as I’m asking–who taught them?
It’s hard to wield such a weapon effectively yet still show others the “right” ways to use it.
So, I think that’s as far as I would have gone. I think that’s probably the point of stasis for me–for that musing, but also in general. If anyone out there has any theories about teaching, I’d be happy to think them through.
I like my students this year. I’m only now getting to know them, but I feel better about the class every day. I only hope they like each other. They seem noisy enough before I get there. Perhaps I’ll be late tomorrow. Maybe they need some time without me…