Charlie’s Mirror

I walk into the class with my third-grade students and ask them to sit down. Jamie and I had come into an agreement at the end of the previous day. She would sit in the front row so as to have as much of my attention as possible.

The kids sit down and Jamie picks an argument with her friend who has asked to share the desk. I turn to Jamie to remind her of our agreement and say that sharing a desk with a friend can be fun. Jamie makes a face at me. I reproduce the facial expression to the class and ask them what they think it means and how they would feel if they were on the receiving end. They say it is a hurtful face, an indifferent but angry face, an ‘I’ll pay you back’ face…

Soon they begin to list complaints they have against Jamie. She kicks us, they say, and pushes past us; she stabs us with pencils and is rude to us; she always wants her own way.

Jamie listens surprised. I’m not sure whether she is surprised because so many of them are complaining, or because of the long list of negative things, or because of what she is being accused of.

I turn to Jamie and say: ‘You do not really want to be this way, do you?’ ‘No’, she says. Then I turn to the class: ‘Jamie says she wants to be friends, but perhaps she is not very clear about the way she can do this. Can you imagine any situations where someone might behave like Jamie and not mean it?’

Yes, they say, if the person is shy, or worried about how they look, or afraid that people don’t like them, or if they are unhappy or lonely. I ask them what they could do to help her understand the situation. Be nice to her, they say. Remind her that she is not behaving like a friend when she is like this, that she is not being herself. Tell her that she upset our feelings.

Then a hand at the back goes up. It is Charlie, a child who hasn’t spoken before. ‘Yes, Charlie’, I say, ‘what do you think?’ Charlie says, ‘We should tell her that life is like a mirror.’

Wow! This is intriguing. I turn to the rest of the class and ask them what they think Charlie means. They are eager to reply, explaining that if you want to see how you look and are not sure, you look in the mirror. Then you’ll know. ‘So should Jamie carry a mirror with her?’, I ask. ‘No!’, the kids reply in excitement. ‘Her mirror is us! We show her what she looks like.’

‘But,’ I ask, ‘can a mirror show you how you would like to be? Because Jamie would like to be different from the way she looks to you.’ ‘No,’ they say, ‘you need to work at it. You look into the mirror to see what you want to change, then you make some changes, and then you look again to check that you now look the way you want. So it needs work from the inside.’

‘A mirror doesn’t lie,’ somebody adds, ‘it shows things how they are. If Jamie is nice, as she wants to be, we her mirror will be nice back to her. If we are not nice, then she may be doing something wrong.‘

I suggest that the children draw something with Charlie’s theme that life is like a mirror, and they take to it with enthusiasm. Then another student says: ‘I’ll draw myself just how I am, because I’m happy with who I am!’ Ah, bless!

And Jamie drew a really pretty picture of herself, looking very happy…

What a lesson, what bunch, what a day! I’m so lucky to have them all!

Here are some of the children’s drawings. (Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.)

Conversations and Contexts blog

Welcome to my blog, where I post on on educational practice and policy, philosophical topics, and other things that interest me. Please note that the descriptions of classroom moments in this blog, though rooted in reality, are not literal records. Some details (including all names) have been changed to protect students’ anonymity, some characters are composites, and some events have been altered, compressed, or conflated for the purposes of story telling.

The School of European Education, Heraklion

Back in September I wrote a post for, a website which celebrates Greece and Greek culture, and which is run by my partner Keith Frankish. The post is about the School of European Education, Heraklion, where I work and where my children study.

At the time I wrote the post, the school was going through a difficult phase, owing to administrative problems outside the control of the school’s management. I am happy to report that this difficult phase has now passed. The school is now functioning normally, and the students have largely made up for the time lost at the beginning of term.

However, I am linking to the post here, both because I stand by all the positive things I say in it about the school, and because I want to remind everyone how precious this institution is, and how important it is that it survives and flourishes.

Here is my post on the school.