Personal Narrative: My Experience Teaching Versus Learning

1618 words - 6 pages

Last semester I led a ninth-grade class room through a reading of Romeo and Juliet. I had little time to prepare for this unit of study, and had never formally studied or written about the play. I worked my way through each scene, preparing prompts and discussions that seemed relevant to the content of the play, to its connections to private and public social issues (both Elizabethan and modern), and to why the play was written in poetic form, or what the poet was trying to do with language. The play is rife with paradox, oxymoron, and ambiguity, so finding a focal point or common theme to unify the various lessons was difficult. However, as we approached the final act, everything that the students and I had explored in this play seemed to me to be pointing back to a line early in Act I, "Part fools! You know not what you do."

Born into a world of contradictory and opposing forces of control, authority, and traditional obligations, a young person does not have the means to make judgments but is swept along on the tide of what others say must be done. If one's heart or conscience cries out for a different course, lack of experience and of developed judgment can be fatal. Role models are required who can model the skills of weighing the pros and cons, of balancing the heart and the head, of inquiring and seeking out knowledge before a final decision is made. Friar Lawrence spoke this lesson, but cryptically, through the metaphors of poison/medicine and haste/patience, yet he did not model the exercise of inquiring, balancing, and weighing before acting. It suddenly occurred to me that the wisdom that Friar Lawrence advocates but does not exactly inspire, is exactly the sort of wisdom that we were exercising in the classroom as we explored, questioned,and examined the play. We were attempting to move from a level of aesthetic pleasure and sentiment, which, if it is the only aim, can become a sort of foolishness, into an area of considered judgment and of balanced interpretation. We were seeking knowledge not only in terms of understanding the language and themes of the play, but also in terms of understanding the relevance of this play to the present, and of understanding why we were reading, discussing and writing about language and literature. We were trying to expand on our natural and immediate gut responses to the story in order to know something about ourselves, our world, and about the type of mental activity that is required if one is to truly "know" what one is doing.

On the last day of class I had finally figured out how to say this to the students. We were having a student teacher farewell party that day, but I had a few minutes to make some wrap-up remarks. This is what I said: "Don't let anyone tell you what to do. You must know what you're doing, and have your own solid reasons for, and commitments to, your actions. How do we find out what we need to do? Is there a manual we can consult? No. It is a matter of actively engaging...

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