Taylor Mali has been known to say that the 8th grade mind is a beautiful thing. Four and a half months into the job, I have to say I agree. Particularly during those times - in this case, a simple conversation about pickles - when I watch the mysteries of the world unfold in a moment of slow, beautiful awakening. I swear, if you listen closely enough, you can just about hear the petals unfurl.
Student: You make your own vegetable?
Me: Well, I can some vegetables. It's a process where you take fresh vegetables and you put them in glass jars, in very hot water, and you get all the extra air out of the jar so that the vegetables will stay good without being kept in the fridge.
Student: What kind of vegetables do you can?
Me: This year I only did beets, but I've done onions and all kinds of other things before.
Student: What do they taste like?
Me: Well, the easiest way to do it is to pickle them, which is where you put vegetables in vinegar and let them soak up the brine. So they become pickled onions, and pickled beets.
Student: But then ... don't they all taste alike?
Me: No, they keep their original vegetable flavor, but more vinegar-y.
Student: Why don't they all just taste like pickles?
Me: Well, the vinegar changes the taste, but a pickled onion doesn't taste like a pickled beet.
Student: But ... I don't get it.
Me: Ah. Ok. You've eaten a cucumber before, right?
Me: And you've eaten a pickle, right?
Student: Yeah ...
Me: Did they taste the same?
Student: No ... oh. OH. Ohhhhh.
The trick is that you have to be listening, really listening. When I'm thinking about my own train of thought in the conversation, or what I have to teach next period, or all that I have to do after school that day, I miss these conversations. I miss the chance to hear what is not being said. I miss the opportunity to help the mystery unfurl. And then I end up with a conversation that is just about the conversation itself, instead of a conversation about pickles that is really a discovery of wonder in the world.