Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Being a Mirror

A mirror doesn’t do much of anything, which is exactly why I have a small mirror hanging on the wall behind my desk at school, just as a reminder that “doing stuff” is not always the best way to teach. A mirror just reflects, or sends back exactly what is sent out to it, and I need to do much more of that in my work with teenage students. A mirror is the opposite of a busybody perpetual motion machine: instead of rushing here and there, saying hundreds of words per minute, and trying to control everything in front of it, a mirror simply stays where it’s put and is what it is. It has one straightforward but superb task – to give back whatever is given to it, exactly as it was given. When I think about it (and I often do), a mirror is a perfect representation of one of the primary duties of a teacher. Most kids (and some teachers) don’t realize it, but the true purpose of school is to discover who you really are, and nothing does that better than a teacher who takes pleasure in being a mirror. My job is not so much to add more bits and pieces of stuff to my students’ already congested brains, but to merely show them a little of who they actually are. Luckily, my subject matter – writing and good literature – can do that, as long as I sometimes keep my lips sealed and occasionally just reflect back to the kids, like a loyal mirror, what they have written or said. Perhaps, in a figurative way, I can do what the mirrors in our dance teacher’s room do. In dance class, the students probably say, now and then as they catch a glimpse of themselves in the mirrors, “Wow, so that’s what I look like!” and in my class, maybe the teacher, Mr. Mirror, can cause them to do a little gaping, not at what they look like but at how they think and who they are.

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