Matriculation and Metaphor: The Mother of All Core Skills

Amethyst Hinton Sainz Life in the Classroom, Literacy

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I had a lovely Mother's Day, thank you.

A word root for "mother" is embedded in much language surrounding education: matrix, matriculation, alma mater. To begin to reflect on this phenomenon, one must retreat into a bit of metaphorical thinking. A student is born into a school system, and it becomes her soul mother.  Curious metaphors: they bear more exploration.

And yet the vast majority of my sophomores aren't quite ready for that kind of thinking. They comprehend familiar metaphors, but when asked to examine more complex metaphors the process becomes murkier. Ask them to create metaphors, and too often they are baffled, or they retreat into the familiar. As do we all most of the time. I'm working on strategies for this. It's a gap that I'm just realizing could be essential.

Metaphors are important. Metaphors are often the only hope we have of processing the tangled strands of data we encounter each day. (Hence, possibly, the popularity of infographics.) In addition, the ability to see things metaphorically gives us the tools to explore our humanity. Many linguists and literature professors would in fact argue that language itself is metaphor.

Here's a poem I wrote during the state testing this year:


I am sitting in a biology classroom
watching sophomores take a math exam.
The ferrets are scratching
to get out of their habitat.
This is not a metaphor;
mammals plead in the
cabinet behind me,
and a slowly urgent snake
noses the glass above.

The ferrets are a metaphor.
Of course they are.
And the nosy snake.
The trees we use to trace our families.
The up we go when we improve.
The concept of progress.
The mountains we climb;
the molehills we build
as we ferret our way through
each obstacle.
Or fall flat on our faces.

The scratching of the literal ferrets
doesn’t bother me.
I worry when,
back in my English classroom,
I ask my students to create metaphors,
and they peer about the room
as though there might be
one lurking in the corners.

I believe that metaphorical thinking is a core skill. It is not mentioned in the Common Core standards half as often as it should be, but when the standards are unpacked it is clear that we must encourage this kind of fluid movement among the empirical and the imaginative, the abstract and the concrete, between what we know and what we are learning.

I offer you this crumb as something to chew on.



Amethyst Hinton Sainz is National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts, and is constantly trying to live up to that standard! This year she will begin teaching at Westwood High School in Mesa, Arizona as an interventionist. She has taught junior high ELD and high school English in Arizona for 25 years. She has been a Stories from School blogger since 2012. Amethyst’s alma maters are Blue Ridge High School, the University of Arizona and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Philosophy led her toward the College of Education, and she soon realized that the creative challenges of teaching would fuel her throughout her career. Her love of language, literature, and culture led her to Bread Loaf for her master's in English Literature. She is a fellow with the Southern Arizona Writing Project, and that professional development along with, later, the National Board process, has been the most influential and transformative learning for her. As a board member of the Mesa NBCT Network, she works with other NBCT’s to promote this powerful process throughout the district. She supports candidates for National Board Certification, and loves seeing teachers realize and articulate their teaching and leadership power! She enjoys teaching students across the spectrum of academic abilities, and keeping up with new possibilities for technology in education. Last year she had the privilege of running our school garden, and will really miss that this year. She is currently learning more about social and racial justice and is striving to be an antiracist educator. She lives in Mesa, Arizona with her family. She enjoys time with them, as well as with her vegetable garden, backyard chickens, and the two dogs. She also enjoys reading, writing, cooking (but not doing dishes), kayaking, camping, and travel, among other things.

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