Faire un avec sa matière pour y emmener ses étudiants

Compte tenu de la thématique du Mois de la pédagogie 2013, « Enseigner, c’est changer », j’ai pensé que des extraits de ce texte de Dale Salwak, professeur d’anglais au Citrus College, à Glendora en Californie, pourraient être inspirants.  Salwak est l’auteur de Teaching Life: Letters from a Life in Literature (2008), pour lequel il écrit une suite.

L’auteur commence par décrire une épiphanie qui lui est apparue lorsque, après douze ans d’enseignement, il s’est aperçu qu’il n’avait plus besoin de ses notes pour enseigner, qu’il maîtrisait suffisamment sa matière (un poème de Wordsworth à ce moment-là) pour s’y plonger totalement.

For the first time in my career, I felt, with utter calm and clarity, that I “owned” the material, that I was inside the poem itself. To borrow from William Butler Yeats’ Among School Children, the dancer and the dance had become one, affording me an intimacy with the text and the author’s meaning that I had not known before and that continues to this day. [notre emphase]

Il décrit ensuite combien cette expérience a changé sa manière d’enseigner:

What I learned from that experience with Wordsworth I now try to apply to every class and to every reading. No matter what I teach or how many times I teach it, the material at hand is always fresh, always alive, because I am discovering new interpretations of the work, more details about the author’s life, and greater insights into my students and myself as we examine the piece and work together towards a deeper understanding of it. In other words, the process itself supports the quality of the illumination – the more we look, the more we see.

I’m no longer tied to a sheaf of notes. Now, when I walk into the classroom, I bring with me the text and a card or two on which I’ve written in sequence some bullet points, perhaps a couple of questions. Although I want to add to my students’ understanding, to the precision and clarity of their thoughts, I don’t know in advance how I will achieve that. A lot depends on their responses, their questions and the flow of that day’s discussion. This approach is risky, but I want them to feel we are making discoveries together.

My professional life has been revitalised as a result, and during every semester I encourage my students to dive deep into the text, and into their own thoughts. They have come to expect that of me, and of themselves, and most of them believe that anything less than the challenge of total engagement – whether it’s reading at a deep level or climbing a mountain – can limit both their education and their lives. [nos emphases]

Pendant quelques paragraphes, Salwak explique comment il tente d’enseigner à ses étudiants comment faire eux aussi corps avec les textes en essayant de se mettre à la place des auteurs qui les ont écrits.  Il s’inquiète de ce que la vitesse, l’importance accordée aux résultats et l’individualité de nos modes de vie rendent difficile l’intériorité et l’abandon qu’il recommande pour vraiment découvrir les oeuvres « de l’intérieur ».

Il termine son texte précisément sur cette idée de changement des autres et de soi-même:

The highest goal of teaching is transformation. The best teachers, through their knowledge, enthusiasm, insight, encouragement and high expectations, catalyse in their students a desire to ask questions and to seek answers and, in the words of Marcel Proust from The Prisoner and the Fugitive, “to possess other eyes”.


Ralph Waldo Emerson was correct when he observed in his journal from 1834: “The whole secret of the teacher’s force lies in the conviction that men [and women] are convertible. And they are. They want awakening.”

Ultimately we teach because it can awaken both teacher and student by opening their eyes, maybe even their hearts, to truths about themselves and their world… [nos emphases]


Salwak, Dale, « Feature: Teaching inside the moment« , Times Higher Education, 4 avril 2012

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