Purpose in Poetry
By: Dr Jonathan Alexander Smith, HOD English, CAG
The art of teaching is rooted in purpose for the teacher, and its fulfilment is in enabling students to find and reaffirm their purpose in their growth within their ordinary day-to-day life. In a world of educational trends and fads, it is always refreshing to remind ourselves that an engagement in the deep truths and foundations can result in a student's personal transformation of purpose—and, by extension, our own realisation of how our purpose is being fulfilled in the ordinariness of a teaching day.
I reminded myself again of this recently during an AP literature poetry lesson. A hot, hot, hot day, littered with Seniors focused on all things apart from an in-depth analysis of poetry. Here, perhaps, it felt more like Lawrence's “Last Lesson of the Afternoon” than an opportunity to create any purpose. Yet, in maintaining and creating room for depth of conversation through a consistent atmosphere and expecting students to engage in rigour and go beyond themselves (even if they do not feel like it), a glimpse was seen of how purpose in a classroom can easily extend to life.
A student who, tired from college applications and AP stressors, suddenly finds a meaning of purpose within the poem “A Midlife Testimony”. In the mugginess of an ordinary afternoon; moments of clarity as a poem brought power to her purpose in life and reflection on what love is. Facing a relationship that would change as college emerges, one sees in her creation of a OnePager (attached) a dawning realisation of not just what she wants but of a foundational reality of how she views her purpose in love. Purpose is found in poetry; teaching comes alive. And, yes, as teachers, we do have these moments of ordinary purpose, and they give us the strength and purpose to keep beating on, born back ceaselessly into our teaching heritage of purposeful transformation.

Note: The student, Isabel Porter, has given permission for this reflection to be shared.