“The writer, like the teacher, needs to understand each individual act more generally, as a specific variant of the kind of situation for which the procedure was designed.”
-Kathleen Blake Yancey, “Only Connect”
Yancey’s exploration of “reflective teaching” probably connects to reflective just about anything: learning often involves doing something, stepping back to look at what you did (and how it played out), and then doing that thing again. Reading her work, I think, “Yes:” until we’re willing to connect this moment to other moments, look for the pattern, and try again, we’re navigating a sea whose every wave hits us as unknowable, unpredictable, unfamiliar. But I also think “No no no:” any time I’ve abstracted this actual person, Sam, into a student, and my interaction with Sam into a situation for which I have a designed “procedure,” I’ve felt gross, and Sam has felt what I’m doing, and he’s been (justifiably) pissed off at me. There’s that old saw: “You don’t teach English, you teach people.” We don’t live procedures, we live lives.
Still, Yancey and I probably agree more than we don’t. She is suspicious of “gifts” and “talents,” preferring something like “skills,” and I can understand that. Everything can be practiced. We do nothing but practice, every day. If it can be practiced, then a companion (call them a teacher, if you want) can probably support you in practicing, and a companion (call them a student) can consider your example. Her essay gives us one example of how you could form that practice, but growing up is personal. Whatever life I grow, it grows in my soil. I don’t think you can graft a practice from one person to another. You can describe the seed you started with, and how you planted it, and how you cared for it. But you can’t push me through the seasons. You can’t even give me the seed: I go out into my own wilds, and look for it. I want what Yancey wants, I want more people, changed by and changing a more connected world, but I’m worried when we try to lay down roadmaps instead of encouraging countryside wanderers.
I suppose I’m worried by abstractions. “The writer, like the teacher, needs to…” I need to connect. To you. You may not want to; then I need to connect with your unwillingness to connect. I’ve had that experience with a student before, and when I let him be him, not a collection of my intents and practices, it worked well. I need to listen. I need to be open, not to what I expected, but to what is. I need to offer, not what I’ve practiced, but what I am. In the end, I think, Kathleen Blake Yancey’s students will be inspired by her or not at all. A friend will know her, or they won’t. Her lovers will touch her, or no one. I will give my heart, my mind, my work, give it to you, because there is no one else here, no average student with a notebook, and because I have–I am–nothing else. I need nothing else. This is wonderful, joyous and frightening and true.