My students are starting a poetry blog. They chose as the blog’s title: Poetry Is a Mirror (we’re not quite ready to take the wraps off yet, but stay tuned). The title, they told me, means that poetry is a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly.
Maybe I should change my blog’s title to Students Are a Mirror. That’s because my students are like a mirror in which I can see myself more clearly. Or at least, they let me see myself as they see me.
Here’s an example. Recently in one of my classes, the students were out of control. They were thumbing cell phones under their desks (as if I can’t see below the horizon line of their table tops), they were whispering to one another, they were talking out of turn … basically they were doing everything they could to keep me from teaching. I could feel my frustration level rising as I asked for their attention again … and again. Finally I raised my voice, something I don’t like to do unless pressed. “I am really unhappy with the way you are all behaving today,” I said, in what I thought was my strictest teacher voice. I went on to lecture them about how disrespectful I thought they were being and if you’ve ever been or had a teacher, you know pretty much how the rest of my speech went.
When I was done, S., who was among the worst offenders, looked up at me with a genuine look of confusion on her face. “But Miss,” she said, “if you are so unhappy, then why are you smiling?”
Then this week, we were working on metaphors. I asked everyone to say how they were feeling, and then to compare that feeling to something else:
“I’m happy like flowers,” one student said.
“I’m sad because I can’t be with my son today, I feel like a puzzle that’s missing a piece.”
“I feel tired, like a grizzly bear in October.”
“What about you Miss, how do you feel?” a student asked me.
Another good question. But before I could answer they started to answer for me:
“You’re hyper,” one girl said.
“You’re like a battery …” someone else suggested.
“… that’s all charged up.” her neighbor added.
Okay, so now my face was red, like an apple. But I had to go on with the game I’d started. “I’m energetic, like a super-ball,” I said. And once again I was surprised to see myself through their eyes.
Then one more reflection was mirrored back to me. This time another teacher was going over vocabulary words with the students. The word was Euphoric. They reviewed the definition. Euphoric, relating to Euphoria: a feeling of happiness, confidence, or well-being sometimes exaggerated in pathological states as mania.
“Oh,” S. said. “I get it. Euphoric is what the poetry teacher is.”
I suppose I like the view through the mirror my students hold up to me. Well, “exaggerated in pathological states …” isn’t exactly what I hope they see when they look at me, but teaching poetry does make me happy. Sure, euphoric even.