During my first year of teaching I had the wonderful opportunity to teach one of my favorite poems, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I typed a copy of the poem on my old, trusty typewriter and then made a copy on an overhead transparency. I taught the students about rhyme scheme, imagery, and theme. Here is the poem to refresh your “freshman” memory:
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20
To help the students discover the theme, I asked them to state why taking the path less travelled made all of the difference. Almost all of the kids went with the ideas of taking a risk or not following others. Except Philip. Philip stopped me in my tracks in that “yellow wood” with his response. He saw the speaker of the poem as having chosen a criminal path, one the majority of us do not choose. And now, the speaker was facing the consequences of his actions. Perhaps Philip was bringing something personal to the theme; perhaps he was only trying to be different, thereby demonstrating the theme of the poem; or perhaps he was a true outside-of-the-box thinker.
It does not matter why he said it so much as the fact he showed me another way to see a message from a work of literature. For me, it was the start of realizing I was not omniscient. (A wife and children finished that whole omniscient idea.) I learned that the students have so much to offer to classmates. And, to take it to the world of work, companies do not rely on one leader to know everything; they rely on input from the team members. Eventually, the leader makes the final decision, but different perspectives shared in an honest, safe setting lead to success for all.