by Stephen Sagarin, 11th grade advisor – 30 Nov 2004
In August 1988, before the start of my third year of teaching, I dreamed I stood before a difficult class in the school library. I wore my shirt, jacket and tie, but nothing else; this was embarrassing. No one noticed, but I was uncomfortable and tried to find excuses to leave. The class became more and more unruly until I walked over and slapped a studentóhe shall remain nameless, but he was someone very specific – across the face, hard.
Fortunately, these anxiety dreams tend to pass as we mature as teachers. We begin to forget about ourselves. Beginning teachers tend to focus on themselves. This is almost a first stage in becoming a teacher. Is my dress appropriate? My manner? My technique? My hair? Am I adequate for this job? Try to learn to forget about yourself.
In the next stage, many teachers become preoccupied with their subject, with the material of their class. What should I teach? What can I leave out? What is important? I have 14 topics and only five days left in the course… Gradually, we forget about the subject. When we are learning to play the piano, we think about playing the piano, and it is difficult to make music. When we have learned to play the piano, we forget the piano and begin to play. Try to learn to forget your subject. At the end of life, who will say, Gee, I wish I had learned just a bit more algebra. I wish I had been a better speller?
I recently read something that included the beautiful phrase, the fruitfulness of forgetting. Apply the fruitfulness of forgetting to your work. Part of the value of forgetting is that our attention is freed to engage the world anew. A third stage in the development of a teacher occurs when your attention goes, finally, where it belongs: To your students. Learn to attend to your students. Forget the rest. And students: Pay attention to your teachers!