Friday, January 24, 2014

Teaching While Awed

It's been a couple of weeks since I wrote about grading papers and I've been thinking a lot about one of the most important experiences I left out when reading student work: Awe.

In Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, he talks about how important awe is to good teaching. Awe is about witnessing, not dissecting. Awe is not about grading, but appreciating.

A teacher needs to have a sense of awe for their subject, meaning recognizing that something within your area of study is greater and far more encompassing than the limits of your comprehension. We are drawn to that large weighty thing in the same way we're drawn to this huge spinning rock in the middle of the universe. Awe gives gravity to our teaching.

(Side note: children, who have not been robbed of their innocence, are deeply in touch with their sense of awe--and that's why they are the best students.)

So, I have to stay in touch with the staggering and humbling feeling that I've only scratched the surface in my understanding of the literature that I present to students. I could teach a book like Fahrenheit 451 a thousand times and still not feel like I've found everything there is to appreciate. I have to feel like I have a lot to learn, not because I'm so ignorant, but because the material is so great. And when I stop feeling that, maybe I shouldn't teach it. And maybe I should change professions, too.

But that's not the only type of awe that's vital. I also need to allow myself time and space to be awed by the children I teach. That means that after completing all of the "work" of grading and responding and entering and conducting the "business" of teaching, I have to set aside time to appreciate the beauty in the writing of my students.

This type of beauty ain't always easy to see, but in order for me to really know my students, I have to be observant and present enough to be awed by them. I have to recognize some essential good thing in their work that connects to some essential good thing in the material we're exploring in class. If I can't see a connection, I'm not the teacher to help them discern the connection themselves, and the class will be a waste of time.

But if I am able to help them connect their goodness, there are few things more powerful than a classroom glowing with the awe of true learning. Yup.

1 comment:

Geeda said...

Well said Mr. Shakur. Awesome way to look at teaching and what You bring.