Friday, August 20, 2010

On Endurance

Behold, we count them happy which endure (James 5:11).


On the first day of school, I began my AP English Literature class with a poem, “The Seven of Pentacles” by Marge Piercy. As I read the poem aloud again and again – eight times over the course of the day, in fact -- the line that resonated with me was “Live a life you can endure.” Teaching seniors is a complex joy. I feel the pressure of preparing their minds and hearts for a world beyond the gates of high school, but I also experience the excitement and pride as they move confidently into this next stage of their lives. As we discussed the poem, I came back to the word endure. Often, the connotation of this word is negative, implying mild suffering or unwilling tolerance. However, endure can also mean allow or continue. Live a life you can allow. Live a life you can continue.

My son, Michael, has started third grade and getting back into the routine of homework and reading calendars and spelling tests has proved difficult. He tends to rush, make mistakes, become agitated and give up easily. I do not want homework time to become a nightly battle, but I believe allowing him to submit to his laziness, love of video games and the lure of television will not only weaken his academic skills, but his work ethic and intrinsic motivation as well. I have been encouraging him to go beyond what is easy, to be conscientious and to find pleasure in doing well on an assigned task.

Another poem we will read soon in AP Lit is also by Marge Piercy, “To Be of Use,” in which she proclaims that all people yearn for “work that is real.” That is what I want to unearth in my son, in my students and in myself – a desire for work. I have been telling my students that whatever comes quickly is too easy; they need to push themselves to read more deeply, think more creatively, question more voraciously. The literature we study is so incredibly rich that we could never exhaust its supply of insights, connections and revelations.

As a teacher, each year I begin with a renewed commitment to refining my practice, focusing my instruction, sharpening my assessment, sowing and reaping in a carefully planned manner, while relishing the miracle of growth. And I want to balance this deep commitment to my students and my craft with the loving and nurturing of my family, certainly the work that is most real. At school, 146 hearts and minds; at home, four, but the scales lean heavily in their favor. Often, this balancing is the thing I consider the hardest work of all. But it is the best work, too. It is certainly a life I can allow, a life I can continue, a life I can endure.

 

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