Teaching Philosophy: Waiting for Godot to Come to Class


Preliminary Comments


The following remarks and short essay serve to clarify my thoughts on the vocation of teaching. I have organized these remarks, and the web page in general, around a “short” paper that was the topic of a recent lesson in my French Contemporary Theater class. From the paper, an intertextual study of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, I will formulate some of my major ideas about teaching. Hopefully, from the these remarks, the short paper, and this web page, you will see my strengths from:

-         a general resumé on my web page <Resumé/Curriculum Vita>

-         comments from various faculty members/colleagues in Recommendations on my web page

-         evaluations from former students in Recommendations on the web page

-          evaluations from current students  in Recommendations

-         Innovative practices as evidenced in the Dartmouth Rassias Method I use and the elementary French text that I created and use in my class with a CD program created by former French students, Yvonne Tomek, and myself. On the web page you can find the complete text in the Class Materials section under <Fast French.> There are 60 lessons in total.) I also use my Web Page entirely for the benefit of my students. With email it is possible for student to take many of my courses on a self-study. I have CDs with audio instruction in Elementary French, Advanced French Grammar, and in 4 French literature courses. (2 CDs of Fast French are in the back of the folder.

-         papers that I have written about the study of language and literature that I have published, presented at meetings, and most importantly used in the classroom in the <Papers> section.

-         National Endowment of the Humanities Awards/Fellowships/Seminars in the study of language and literature in the Curriculum Vita.

-         Interdisciplinarity as evidenced in last year’s Masters in Theological Studies

-         Up-to-dateness seen in the meetings I attend. I am the only member of our division, with the exception of the retired Terry Everett, who goes regularly to the Modern Language Association Convention in December. It is our “big” organization where all the major scholars gather and present ideas. This insures DSU students of getting the absolute cutting edge of ideas in the reading and teaching of texts.

-         Up-to-dateness seen this past year as I have led organized a state-wide meeting of language teachers on campus, edited Tapestry, our division’s literary magazine, read papers at meetings (including a presentation on writing at this September’s DSU Faculty Development Conference on Teaching), and perfected my elementary French grammar text for classroom use.


Using the web page, you can jump to any place you have interest. The web page is helpful in the “papers” area as you will have the opportunity to see any paper you like. I have added a parentheses around the paper indicating the subject. The first paragraph should give you an idea of the content.


In general, I have a vocation for the teaching profession. I have never missed a class in my over thirty years teaching, except when at meetings. My students can vouch for the importance I hold in the classroom experience. It is where I learned how to love learning and where I think I am called to spread this love.



Teaching Philosophy


Waiting for Godot to Come to Class: Pensum to Lesson  


            My teaching philosophy comes from a lesson I recently tought in “Contemporary French Theater.” It is a study of intertextuality in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Simone Weil’s Waiting for God. Their position on “waiting” is an ideal for teachers and students. A reading of Godot through Simone Weil, will clarify the definition of “waiting” as “attention” that takes students from a position of “tasks to be performed” to “lessons to be interpreted.”


            Samuel Beckett, an Irish writer who used French to explore the absurdities of modern life, is most known for Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot), a 1953 theater of the absurd piece about two tramps who are waiting for a mysterious Mr. Godot who will come and rescue them from their miserable condition. They contemplate suicide, talk about the two thieves crucified with Christ, eat carrots and turnips, and are interrupted by a master and a slave who pass by. A boy arrives and says that Godot is not coming today, but will surely come tomorrow. The second act is much like the first. The wait will endure forever. Many interpretations have followed. A theory of “minimalization” has Beckett reducing all reality to a bare minimum to see if there is anything at the core of our humanness. The biggest minimalization in literature is the subject of the play, which is “waiting” rather than “searching.”  Is the play positive or negative?


            Simone Weil, a twentieth century philosopher and political activist, has a collection of essays and letters called Waiting for God (L’attente de dieu -- literally the “wait” for God). Intertextuality is a process by which we use one text to help us read another text. Weil’s use of “attention” gives us insight into a possible Beckett meaning. She uses “attention” from its root meaning of “wait.” In the working out of a problem, the goal is not the answer, but an increased sense of attention. “Waiting” is the effort of attention to seek the truth . The goal is never the end. Attention is really a thoughtful wait where we try to empty ourselves of “goals” so as to let truth come in. Weil sees God as ultimate truth and love. Thus we can all use her “God” as a symbol of the search for love and truth. She sees the “wait” as “implicit love” in 3 areas of beauty: the beauty of love of neighbor and friendship; the beauty of the world, and the beauty of religious ceremonies. Love is a direction to purity –not something done for a reward or good feeling. We must all search for this “purity” in our vocations:


1.         In “love of neighbor” we must have an equilibrium between the compassion of the giver and the gratitude of the receiver. Pure giving is when the giver is absorbed into the affliction of the receiver. The two share their affliction and gratitude. “Pure” means that there is no desire for rewards. In friendship we want to desire the good in each other, but avoid the friendship reaching a stage of necessity that would put one friend in a superior position. “Needing” lessens the purity of the friendship.

2.         In loving the beauty of the world we wait for “God’s” tender smile coming through material creation. We put off trying to possess beauty. We work at letting it shine through to us. In a poem we don’t wish it to be other than it is. We must have “faith” that structures of beauty will be revealed to us. The ultimate desire is to see universal beauty. Seeing without the sense of wanting to consume or own it is the degree of purity we try to advance to. “Faith” will give us the patience in a “watchful wait.”

3.         In religious ceremonies all religions pronounce the name of God in their own languages. It is where we develop a language of what we believe is truth. There is a food value or nourishment in the ceremonies. Pure love is present when we do not try to consume or “reify” (make a thing out of) God or truth. Language has a food value as our “attention” or “wait” is on developing a sense of truth where there is no desire for owning it. We work at perfecting the language of our vocation in a community gathering (like at conventions—or classrooms).


            In Beckett’s play, the “waiting” is Simone Weil’s philosophic “attention.” The action is reduced or minimalized so that we can arrive at a purity. The tramps struggle in their friendship. They go back and forth from purely desiring the good in each other, and from a baser necessity to have the other.  They fight over whether to “love their neighbor” with regards to the master and slave. They are reduced to eating carrots, but their real nourishment is their conversation. Beckett’s language is very high and noble.  They are more aware that Godot will not come, but they also have faith to resume their vigil. Are they the two thieves crucified with Christ? Simone Weil would say that the glory of the good thief is not the promise of eternity, but the actual being crucified with Christ. The two tramps are in this mold. They wait in attention and correspond with new audiences who come to hear them.



                        Teaching a “Pensum” or Teaching a Lesson


            Mary Lydon, a Beckett scholar, sees his life/writing as the remnants of a “pensum” turned into a “lesson.” A “pensum” is an archaic word meaning a “chore,” a “task,” a “punishment” for students, like “lines to be memorized.” Life for Beckett is a chore of writing with “nothing to express and the obligation to express it.” His “pensum” becomes a “lesson” in its performance or art. “Lesson” has its root word in “lectio” or “reading.” Doing a pensum is a duty to perform. Reading is an act of interpretation, comprehension and love

            I see my life as a teacher in this Simone Weil reading of Beckett’s “attention” in the areas of love of neighbor/friendship/, love of the beauty of the world, and participation in religious ceremonies. Reading is the act of interpreting, not only printed material, but material in all mediums and disciplines. Reading is also having knowledge of a particular language of a particular discipline. Teaching has to do with the word “know” and its various meanings: to know facts or to be acquainted with. How do I know how to read? How do I pass it on?


1. Beauty of love of neighbor and friendship

I am aware of the difficulty students are going through. My compassion stems from the difficulties I had in learning a foreign language and in the pains of expressing thoughts along with the fear of so many beautiful thoughts dying because of my lack of articulation. I treat students as colleagues or “friends” in the sense that we form a learning community. They believe in my honesty of the pursuit of knowledge over any sentiment of me being a good Samaritan.

2. Beauty of the World

In teaching about the beauty of the world, I try to let them see the beauty in language learning and in reading literature. In Elementary French, I, along with Anne-Marie Bryan and Yvonne Tomek, have written a first year text that is available to students on my Web Page. The text is “short” enough so students can study the whole structure of the French language. Other texts are so huge that students often do about half of the structures in one year. I have also made supporting CDs with real French students producing the dialogs. There are supplementary CDs where students can also teach themselves if they choose to take the course in a “tutorial” mode. Never turn away a student who wants to learn what I have to offer is one of my mottoes. Elementary French is also a philosophy course on learning in general. I teach the students the basics of structuralism and deconstruction and show how learning a language is identical with learning the languages of other disciplines. Students who go through my course recreate their worlds in the new language. Hopefully they will grasp a higher attention to their major discipline, and add mine as a supplementary one.

The goal of learning French is to be able to read and live in its beautiful culture.  Along with my Introduction to Literature courses (Eng 203, 204),  French upper level courses have to do with interpretative reading. I have been interdisciplinary long before it was in fashion. I have taught the relation of literature with philosophy, music, painting, cinema, psychology and business. All the papers and NEHs that I have done were in the sole goal of using them in the classroom.



3. Beauty of religious ceremonies—classroom experiences

The classroom is a religious setting for me. “Religious” here means that the classroom is tied to a higher reality than just teaching course content. Our goal is a communion and community of learners who help each other out. I have an additional Masters Degree in Theology. My research has been primarily in this field for the last three years. Theology is the study of conceptions of “god” in the world. While I may use the degree with my Church, I intend to use it extensively in my study of literature and language. Theology is an academic subject and is a vital component in interpreting texts from different cultures. Knowing the religious background of writers and intended audiences offers a richer reading of texts (see philosophy/theology papers).

At the elementary French level I use the John Rassias Method of Intensive Language Learning, which I learned on an Exxon grant at Dartmouth College. On the learners level it is a method to train students to memorize better. I also like to use upper level students to assist lower level learners. In upper level language, literature and reading courses, I continue to use material I learn at meetings, seminars and workshops. I need to keep improving as a teacher and scholar. Otherwise I will fall back. The classroom experience keeps me in memory of the things I need to do to arrive at deeper levels of knowing with me and all my colleagues.