Dr. Ellington is not molding pottery for us

To start off with, I love Penny Kittle. I was introduced to her material last year in Dr. Ellington’s adolescent literature course. I like her because she is honest. She is honest about needing to be different in order to reach students, but she doesn’t go about it in a manner that bashes public education or scares the bajesus out of me. I like learning new things and different approaches to problems that arise for the everyday English teacher, but don’t approach it in such a fashion that is going to make me go to Dr. Evertson’s office and change my major. (Trust me, some readings have made me consider this!)

Anything Penny Kittle writes gets my attention. She explains her reasoning for being different without boring me to death like one other reading I did for this week’s assignment. “The Book Whisperer” by some mysterious person named “Miller”, for example, was not fun to read. In fact, I can’t even say that I did read it. I skimmed it.

Even though I skimmed this reading, one sentence stood out to me. I starred it with my purple pen and lingered on it for a bit. The starred sentence was “Instead of standing on stage each day, dispensing knowledge to my young charges, I should guide them as they approach their own understandings” (15). Bingo; got my attention there, Miller! I immediately grabbed my writer’s journal and made the connection as to why I was hung up on this sentence. My “bottom line” that I created Wednesday in class was that I wanted students to develop their own opinion and understanding of English after leaving my classroom. I want my students to develop hatred towards Sylvia Plath but love John Green, or vice versa, on their own. I want opinions to form because they took the time to venture out and read something new or write something poorly. We all strive for lifelong readers and writers, but don’t tell them what to read and write forever. Let them discover that themselves!

My boss was telling us this story the other day that I couldn’t help but apply to my future English teaching self.

The story was that of a young man in a pottery class. He was nervous about the class because he had never really been a creative person. The student sat down at his wheel and put his hands on the clay and worked. He was becoming entranced by the process of creating something on his own. The student started loving his design: something that will never be recreated. His pottery teacher stood behind him and praised his great work. The teacher then reached down and put her hands over his. The student became deflated. This work that was once his and only his was now molded by other hands. It wasn’t his creation any longer.

So I guess to conclude and finally answer the question “what do I think about teaching and learning?”, I would say that teaching is guiding, not doing, and learning is taking that guidance and venturing out on your own to develop your own opinions.

Now that I think about it, that’s kind of what Dr. Ellington is doing with this class. She’s not molding pottery for us. We are the molders choosing what we do with our clay.

In my head this all makes sense.



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