This afternoon I was reading through Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach looking for a poem to write about today. (In the future I probably won’t be posting everyday, but for November I’m going to stick to the challenge that I set for myself). The book has a lot of great poems, but none of them really spoke to me and they aren’t ones that I used myself. Then I remembered my favourite Robert Frost poem (not just because it’s short and I can recite it…) It’s called Dust of Snow:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
As I reread it here again I have to admit that this poem doesn’t really have a lot to do with teaching. It’s not particularly inspirational or life changing. But Dust of Snow has a lot to do with attitude and how we respond to the things that we can’t control in life.
I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, (here’s a link), that the only thing we can control is our attitude or response to what happens in life. Basically, we can think of the things that we don’t expect as either nuisances or gifts. In the poem the crow and the hemlock tree could be seen as signs of foreboding and perhaps even danger and, of course, the snow is cold. Yet the poet’s attitude towards what has happened actually changes his mood and turns a bad day into a happier one. The quick, light rhythm of the poem further emphasizes its positive feeling.
When teachers make lesson plans we tend to try to control everything to make sure that the class stays on track. Five minutes for warm up, ten minutes to present the topic, ten minutes to practice and so on. It’s understandable. There’s usually a lot of material to cover and limited class time to cover it all.
But there are so many things going on inside and between the students in each class. We can’t really control everything that’s going to happen. When something does take us off course, how will we react?
When a student’s interesting, yet slightly off topic remark leads us away from the lesson plan, is it a nuisance or a gift?
Be open to the unplanned, to the things that you don’t expect in a lesson. They really are gifts that can help us understand our students more deeply.