This desk makes me question my convictions.
I have been convicted for some time that, to be a good teacher, you need not have experienced a bright light on the road, a deep voice summoning you to the job. To succeed here (at least in the short term) you need some combination of self-reflection, intelligence, and good humor. The rest can be taught.
But that desk testifies to certain attributes of good teaching that cannot be taught. That desk tells the story of a student who was so bored by her teacher’s instruction that she spent a not-insignificant fraction of her school year tunneling through an inch of wood. More importantly, it tells the story of a teacher whose tedious instruction was her lesser fault.
Her greater fault was oblivion. She had no idea what any of her students were doing at any given moment of class. She kept sacred that invisible curtain between student and teacher. She knew none of her students and knew nothing of what they did during the hours she thought they were paying attention to her.
I don’t know if anyone can untrain that kind of oblivion, to say nothing of training the kind of hyperattunement common to all good teachers, the kind of “court sense” that let Magic Johnson connect no-look passes, which manifests in the classroom as a certain omniscience, as “eyes in the back of your head,” as constant awareness of who is working, who needs refocusing, who is scheming, cheating, and plotting, at all times.
If that kind of oblivion can’t be cured (without great expense, anyway) we must direct ourselves, then, to identifying its precursors in our applicant teachers.