As we move towards this spring’s IB exams, my English students this week finished the last poems that the Higher and Standard Levels would study together. The remainder of the course, extending to the beginning of the pre-exam reading period, will be for HL only. Yesterday’s lesson was therefore the last we had as an entire class. At its end the class applauded.

The hand was of course touching, but more to the point of these postings, it is indicative: I think they were applauding themselves as much as or more than me. It indicates a sense that a course is a kind of production with a beginning, middle and end; that they were a part of the production; and that they had reached The End. It indicates that the teacher is something more than a delivery boy (we may appreciate soft water, but we don’t applaud the Culligan Man) and that those applauding are more than passive recipients. It indicates that the students are a group and not just a collection of terminals.

Of course exam results will tell a tale as well; but if as I believe they will, these students’ results turn out to be good, the course will have succeeded while at least partly avoiding Barzun’s four constituents of hateful work. By immersing themselves in literature and responding to it they will have avoided needless abstractness. By doing much of the interpreting, understanding, and improvement themselves, they will have avoided an abject over-dependence on the teacher. By handling successively new material in due course, they avoided repetition[1]. By proceeding through an articulated and structured course culminating in a series of summary assessments, they avoided incompleteness. These results seem worth a hand.

[1] Though not my repeated injunctions to wipe out comma splices, etc.

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