Growing up, I’ve always lived in new-built homes. First, and foggy in my memory, was a land-hugging white wooden ranch with a red front door, and a swing-set in the backyard whose ominous height prompted its nickname “The Gallows.” Later came another white wood house, this one with two stories, green shutters, and a storybookish stone fireplace warming the center of the home. Most enduring was the Georgian red brick overhung with live oaks and gray moss, whose double doors made a little girl think she was entering church.
What was the most significant thought or skill that you learned in this study?
What was the least significant thought or skill that you learned in this study?
What did I do in presenting this that furthered your learning?
What did I do in presenting this that obstructed your learning?
What line or passage moved you the most in this reading?
What from this study do you want to remember?
What advice would you give next year’s students in studying this?
Classical teachers become classical teachers because they have fallen in love with the Good, and, like all who are in love, can speak of nothing but the beloved. Their deep desire to capture, as in a prism, a beam of the Good, and to display its glory refracted through literature and music and art and philosophy and the maths and sciences, compels them into the classroom.
In the press and rush of planning, grading, lecturing, it becomes easy to think that the end of teaching is to plan, to grade, to lecture—and so to confuse the means of teaching with its ends: the getting of wisdom, the forming of virtue, the knowing of God, and the making of friends.
If anything defined my childhood summers, it was The Play.
When the last student closed my classroom door after the final period on the concluding day of the school year this past May, and I was left in the room alone with the memories of all the people and conversations that had filled it for the past ten months, I knelt in the middle of the untidy tables and chairs, and felt overwhelmed by two things: my sins and God’s grace.
It is nearly Christmas. Has any drama of history stirred as much music and poetry, art and imagination, as the stable-birth we celebrate this day? The ancient world could never stop chanting of the battles of Troy; but it is the Incarnation that has filled the mouths and hands of artists ever since Christ’s birth. Of all this abundance, Benjamin Britten’s “This Little Babe” occupies a mere minute-and-a-half. Yet in that breath of time, it offers musical and poetic metaphors of the Nativity that press listeners to wonder and worship at the paradoxes of the Incarnation.
We had been practicing the common topics of rhetoric for several weeks when one of the students approached me after class, brow furrowed. “Miss Brigham,” he confided, “these things are messing with me.”
(My teacher’s heart rejoiced within me. If “things messing with me” means assumptions and desires being displaced, upended, rearranged, then surely this is an excellent—albeit colloquial—definition of learning itself.)
It is the day after Thanksgiving, and a few days till Advent. Over the next few weeks, all our learning and living will take place in the context of bustle and anticipation, joy and solemnity, fasting and feasting. This merits some reflection.
Most days we trip along doing more or less the same thing, trying to be more or less virtuous, hoping, by nightfall, to be more or less happy. The church calendar names these days “Ordinary Time,” and they are lovely; only dulled senses and a blunted soul find pattern uncreative and predictability boring.
Caught in the school year’s relentless current, and bracing against the looming rapids of holidays and vacation, teachers at this time of the year can drift so easily into the eddy of covering curriculum and marching through plans. But we must remember that it’s students, not books, we are really teaching, and that the most treasured classroom moments often come when we defer the question or assignment we’ve set before them to draw out the confusions and complaints they are whispering among them.