Jenifer Smith

This article is made up of lightly edited passages from Jenifer Smith's thesis for her M Phil, An  Exploration of Teaching in Action, awarded by the University of Southampton in  1989.

Something that was particularly exciting about working at Countesthorpe was seeing students suddenly filled with the energy of their own imagination and intellect; realising possibilities and reaching beyond the limits; taking control of their own learning. The most important thing for me was to make that expansion possible for each student and then, to the best of my capabilities, to offer whatever it might be that would maximise the potential for each student.

I propose an idea to the class
"Try this  . . . or this . . .
an idea of your own if you wish."

You write
I begin to see the shape of you
as each one writes
as you talk with me
you unfold what is
you alone
you refuse my impositions
you expose my pretensions
you reveal your originality, your vulnerability, your vigour.

You shift papers, decorate your folder, stand in the library.            
You write a title, gaze through the window, talk to your friend.

How long can I keep away?
I can see a way forward. I know what you should do.

We are both uneasy with this inaction.
"Right. This is what you must do. And this. And this."    
I hear your sigh,
watch your hand with reluctant obedience picking up the pen.
"No," I say. "Wait a little longer."

Choice can be another teacher's confidence trick. "Choose what you like, as long as I approve of it."   - What does this teacher want me to do?
 One set of restrictions is replaced by another, perhaps more idiosyncratic.

You choose.
Your choices surprise me.
In the silence; amidst the talk; in the space that is yours, is the way ahead.
    You speak to me of steam locomotion,
    of evolution,    
    of cruelty to animals,
    of Victorian Leicester;
    you draw dream shapes,
    cartoon figures,
    meticulous designs,
    naive illustrations to your stories;
    you write of magic,
    of love,
     of horror,
    of yourself, yourself, yourself;
    You struggle up a rock face,
     speak with a deaf child,
    dig for bottles,
     watch as the image emerges in the rocking tray of developer.

    Your commitment transcends the limits of the classroom.
    The ideas in this room are yours.

I seek to acknowledge you,
to respond to you;
I come to know your commitment, which is that of scholar, artist, poet, scientist, historian.
My hands trace in the air the possibilities before you for which I have no words, and you reach up and catch hold of an idea from the space between us
We meet together in the seriousness of your choices.

I still feel the same excitement when I see students suddenly pleased with themselves, doing something that somehow had not been possible before.


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