Back to School

It’s amazing how a three-word title can by itself prepare us for the rest of the poem. Already, we have a likely time of year, a possible setting, and a narrowed pool of who and what this poem will be about. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

August, month of the evening cricket,
the withering garden, the sun

This poem does a great job of illustrating transition. It begins with the first thoughts that signal a mental transition from one season to the next. – Daisy Hall, age 14

tired of its expectations,
and the professor
begins to dream of chalk dust
filling her lungs like coal dust,

This repetition grabs the reader’s attention; there’s something to pay attention to here. “Chalk dust” becoming “coal dust” suggests there is something grueling, something perhaps even ominous and dangerous about returning to the classroom, a tension that is maintained throughout the rest of the poem. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

or the dream of losing her classroom,
sprinting down corridors,
squinting at room numbers,
so far removed from the one she seeks.

I think that the greatest strength of this poem is the way that the educator, the figure who, in the lives of students, is a medium to virtually limitless possibilities, shares so many of the same anxieties that students have. The implications of this? It’d be easy to say that this poem doesn’t speak to much more than the fact that teachers get nervous before the impending school year. But I don’t believe that it ends there, with such a trivial fact as the underlying current. My reading is that there is something aside from the modest salary a teacher earns propelling them forward, to be specific, I think the knowledge is what saves them, or perhaps, the self-propagating nature of learning. Fears and anxiety are trivial when compared to the limitless. – Jim Hinkson, age 21
I find this description interesting, I have encountered many teachers that have lost their love of teaching and I can understand how one could feel suffocated by expectation and responsibilities that one is not able to uphold any longer. – Rachel McGuinness, age 20
Then comes the panic of letting go. Is she ready to say goodbye to the freedom of summer and take on the structure of autumn and the return to school? – Daisy Hall, age 14

After a summer of casual drift,
she is suddenly aware, again, of her clothes,

With the impending presence of the Other, the professor becomes increasing conscious of the Self. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

her posture,
of what her face looks like
when stating a fact.
The sea of student faces
she is about to encounter
sends her searching for the Dramamine

I like the “sea of faces” and how it relates to the Dramamine. The new faces can be overwhelming throwing the teacher off and causing a feeling similar to sea sickness. – Rachel McGuinness, age 20

she believes she has in the First Aid Kit
she took on vacation.

This is such a truly human portrait. Miriam includes both positive and negative qualities of life, our confidence and our weakness. – Sarah Branz, age 21

All she knows, all her credentials,
begin to seem like nail clippings
someone forgot to throw away.

What an interesting simile! Its strangeness gives character and grit to the poem. – Patricia Schlutt, age 18
It’s interesting to think of how something that was once so important to you or your career can change in an instant and seem useless. – Rachel McGuinness, age 20

Characters from novels
she waited to read until summer
begin to invade her syllabi,
her lectures threaten to turn to soap operas—
the heroine or hero making fun of her pedagogy
and landing in bed with her flash drive.

There is a juxtaposition of innocence and the loss thereof throughout the poem, emphasizing, perhaps, the speaker’s once vibrant dream and the continued chase and potential loss of that dream. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

What she does to help herself
is buy school supplies:
durable folders, pens with precision tips,
a planner that includes an alarm clock,
a new outfit for the first day of school,
a new skin, thick, flexible, familiar

This addition to her shopping list adds a touch of reality to the dreaminess of the next few lines and a seasonal quality to the poem since "familiar" by definition is something that recurs. – Patricia Schlutt, age 18

as the wish she had one time long ago
to teach, to fill a room
with the beautiful sound of thinking.

This poem captures the feeling I used to get when a new school year was approaching, one of excitement and nervousness. The excitement of seeing people again and buying new clothes, imagining how the New Year would be and looking forward to seeing friends. At the same time there was always the nervous feeling before interacting in a social setting, knowing that I would be studying others and be studied in turn. The girl in this poem feels the same conflict- it seems she used to love school and dream of being a teacher, but now prefers solitude and the freedom of her own mind to the social setting of the school. Her increasing self-consciousness as she grew older may have made her outgrow her former love for school as it became not just centered on learning but on popularity. When she buys new school supplies and clothing she could be hiding behind them, masking her nervousness. It is interesting how Pederson also mentions the teacher's feelings as school approaches, remembering the feeling of being practically choked by chalk dust and having anxious dreams of losing her classroom. In this case the teacher seems to feel the same sort of trepidation and nervousness because of the responsibility of maintaining control. – Laura Crouch, age 20
I adore how this piece communicates a reality some students never fully realize: that our teachers are ourselves, simply people with a passion for learning. They don't sleep at the school or obsess over ways to torture their students with extra homework. They too fear; they too wrestle with the changing seasons. My favorite lines are the last two, in which Miriam addresses the true purpose of the seemingly mundane rituals of school work; it is "to teach, to fill a room / with the beautiful sound of thinking." Well said. – Lauren Carlson, age 23

The ending is so graceful and complete. I am left wanting nothing more from the poem than to try to replicate that beautiful sound myself. – Sarah Branz, age 21
Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.