The Art of Teaching

The instant I push open the door to the creative writing room, I think: “Azar’s not here.”

How do I know that? I have not even stepped into the room yet, have not looked around or listened. Her students are at their computers, and when I sweep them with an assessing glance, every screen has a word doc up and writing on it—the day’s prose assignment, it seems, from the justified double-spacing.

A threesome of creative writing seniors—seniors seem to never have classes—sits at the conference table with their Starbucks cups, their phones and backpacks, talking quietly. This room is home base to them. They ignore the first year students, who ignore them back, accustomed to seniors hanging out in the room.

But all this is business as usual. So what was it? How did I know, opening the door, their teacher was not here?

The detailed sub plans are on her desk. I locate the sub, sitting by one child’s computer, commenting on what she’s written, his back to the room. He hasn’t realized I’ve come in, or that the five girls at the far wall, prone to distraction, are giggling among themselves. Perhaps that’s it: the not realizing, the giggling. I listen. Besides the giggling, there’s chatter, but not a lot. From where I sit at the front, I hear the seniors across the room and perhaps their conversation is a notch louder than usual. In an idle way, I contemplate asking them to lower their voices, but no one is bothered by them and they’re already packing up to leave.

Ten minutes later, this class ends and I’m ready to begin mine. These are good kids and I’d wager most of them completed the day’s writing. Still, the feeling in the room was different: a subtle loosening, a barely perceptible blurring of focus, ever so slightly out of true. This teacher, you see, like every good teacher, has created a certain atmosphere in her classroom through diligence and sensitivity and intelligence, through thoughtful planning and modeling and instilling, until the room keeps a singular essence that is her own. And when she’s absent, I miss it immediately.

All you champions of standardized testing and the “teaching-is-a-science-and-we-can measure-it” platform, listen: this thing I’m talking about here, this is art.

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4 Responses to The Art of Teaching

  1. winnie says:

    You are so right!
    it’s made of love, support, reasonable expectations, and respect. I love this.
    Thanks Pat.

  2. Denise Gibson says:

    So good…so true!

  3. Jana Clark says:

    This is so true, Pat! Your post was like going home. Thanks for the memories of a great room!

  4. Bob Jaeger says:

    Good one, Pat. Even before I got to your conclusion I thought, “Yup. Lots of very important stuff can’t be tested.”

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