classroom

I met a woman this past week who had been my student 30 years ago. She recognized me and (as I had always told students at the end of the school year) she introduced herself wisely – “I’m Lisa and you were my eighth grade English teacher.” Some synapses fired enough that I did recall her by her student last name. She is now married with two children, one in 8th grade, and she is a teacher.

I have reconnected in person or in Facebook with a surprising number of former students who went into teaching. I’m not presumptuous enough to believe that I had something to do with their career choice, but I’d like to think that I at least modeled some good lessons and behaviors.

She was nice enough to say that she loved my class and still remembered certain lessons and books we read and even a few things I had told them that didn’t really have to do with our classwork. She asked me, “What do you think is the secret to being a good teacher?”

That is a difficult question to answer. I gave her too many possible answers (enthusiasm, willingness to experiment and fail, love of your subject…) but when I got home I thought of a poem to answer her.

The poem is one I occasionally used in class, though I’m not sure it is as good a selection for students as it is for teachers.

That poem is “The Secret” by Denise Levertov. The two girls in that poem remind me of Lisa (not her real name) and others who would come in after school sometimes to talk. At times, they had a question about an assignment or something we read or talked about in class, but once and awhile I knew that their initial question was a pretense to ask or talk about something not really part of the curriculum.

In Levertov’s poem:

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I’d like to imagine that Levertov actually did have two girls come to her like in the poem. As a poet, I would love to have someone come to me to say that a line of my poetry did that.

Levertov continues:

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was.

You read a line or someone says something in class and it is a revelation in that moment.

No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them

Lisa, what is the secret? I know that it is not just one thing, but I know that an important part of it is:

they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

 

I am so happy for Lisa and for any of my students or any teacher who want to know the secret, and for assuming there is such a secret. Yes, for that most of all.