Dear Student, What If You Were the Teacher?

Dear Student. What if you were the teacher? What if you had to conduct a lesson on this or that challenging poem?

That’s the best advice I can give to students who make the mistake of Googling “[poetry title] analysis” the minute they are assigned a paper. They may as well be typing “[poetry title] think for me because I don’t believe in myself” into the search  bar.

What do you love best, student? Sports? Dance? Karate? Music? Gaming? And how would you go about teaching the basics to someone who was clueless about this pastime you love?

True, you would use your experience, but you would probably want to brush up on things you still DON’T know or certainly could IMPROVE UPON to do it right and to separate yourself from lazier teachers.

News Flash: People who teach for a living are first and foremost students themselves. To teach well, they must first learn all they can (and the well is bottomless, so on and on it goes) about their subject matter. The knowledge they gain makes them sharper, more interesting, and more impassioned about their subject matter.

So, dear student, take a page out of their books. Read that poem over and over. Put it to song if you must. Make sure you know every definition of any word you don’t know, then choose the best fit so there’s complete clarity, at least on the surface level.

Remember, as teacher, you have to know what many others don’t bother to know.

Think this is no fun? Then stop playing victim and handing the remote control to your life into other people’s hands.

Put some intrigue into it! Play detective (or cast yourself in any police drama slash mystery program you love from TV). Come up with solutions and interpretations that satisfy ALL of the evidence in the poem, not just some of it.

Solving something challenging is way more satisfying then figuring out a nursery rhyme, so why surrender at the get-go (a.k.a. “Google”) when you can make this fun?

And then there is pride. Anyone getting up before the class to teach (even if that’s not the case with every poem you read for class) would want to look competent, no? For the same reason you shower, dress properly, brush your teeth and comb your hair before going out in public, yes?

The bottom line is this: Analyzing poetry or any literature takes time. There are no shortcuts. You don’t do free throws in basketball at team practices only. If you want to be good at crunch time—team down by one with two seconds on the clock and the gym filled with screaming fans— you put in time at home.

Believe in yourself, student. Because any teacher worth his or her salt believes in you, too. Just as in every good teacher there is a perpetual student, in every good student there is a perpetual teacher (someone who keeps repeating to self, “What if I were the teacher?”).

That’s the secret to success, and though it may be a reach, it is within—and not beyond—every good student’s reach. Yep. That’s you. Get used to it. Then take some pride in it.