Last day

What can I say about the last day of school?

Most students rejoiced. Not all. Some will miss their friends. Some will not return. They said their sad goodbyes. One little boy who just got here and who knows no English asked for a translator for this very reason. Some teachers will not return. Not necessarily a bad or good thing…there’s just no need to be flummoxed by flux. I think of the ocean. A sense that tides are turning…I stayed late to help interview teachers for next year. They radiate positivity. The grass is NOT greener, they say…one lovely candidate wearing a string of pearls posed this profound question: How do you feel about the people you work with? So much begins and ends with this, does it not? With the adults in the building?

And this was the last day.

Forgive fragmented brain-play with anagrams:

At sadly
last day
lad, stay

day salt
sly data
lady sat

sadly, ta

Seems fitting for the strange pieces of this year.

Peace…

Kid playing football.Wallboat. CC0 1.0.


Ceremony


We gathered together
moms, dads, grandparents
lots of baby siblings
to honor
our kindergarteners
with pomp and circumstance

a milestone
of accomplishment

here we are,
a normal crowd
cheering, applauding
babies adding their
newfound voices


then giving an ovation
for the second graders
who were present
and assisting
because their ceremony

didn’t happen
in the spring
of 2020


little morning faces
shining with pride
as their families stand
honoring, rejoicing
celebrating

all of our
living through

The funnies

I bought Sunday’s paper, first time in years. As in an actual paper paper. Saw it on the rack while checking out groceries, a giant headline about the state’s plans for moving forward with education in light of pandemic setbacks. As educators themselves (particularly those in the trenches in actual schools) are often the last to know, I thought perhaps I should read it…

Opened it up in the car only to have my attention captured by the comics.

How could I have forgotten?

All those childhood Sundays of sifting through the heftiness of sections and fliers to pull them out, that colorful layer beckoning amid the grayness of the world’s ponderous deeds and opinions.

The poring over every one, the laughter, the ink-smell… a preschool recollection of my grandmother showing me how to flatten Silly Putty over a panel to peel it up and find the image lifted, then stretching poor Charlie Brown’s round head every which way…understanding later, in school, what “newsprint” paper really was when blank sheets were distributed for drawing… often sketching pretty good replications of Snoopy and especially Woodstock in margins of random notebook pages… a fleeting recollection of two strips I cut out and taped to my bedroom door (one, I think, was Shoe and the other eludes me now; I can only remember loving it for its hilarious rhyme).

All this in one nostalgic flash, just finding the funnies in my hands again after so long.

For just that moment, I am child again, and everything is all right.

*Update: Finally remembered the other strip taped to my bedroom door: The Briny Deep.

All in for the kids

In the interview
the candidate said
we don’t get credit
for all we’ve endured
on behalf of kids
in these past two years

and apologized
for the sudden tears

every one of which
surfaces from depths

immeasurable
a soul subjected
to intense pressure
somehow withstanding
high temperatures
beyond describing

the weight of the world
in every teardrop

salt-worth far beyond
the rarest diamond

culminating crown
of love resounding
courage rebounding
in five wondrous words:
“I still want to teach”

Eye Don’t Cry. corner of art. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Out of balance: a lesson

At a kindergarten soccer game this weekend, I noted how the coaches let the kids keep kicking the ball even when it goes out of bounds. This is probably because the ball is so often out of bounds; the kids might never get sustained playing time otherwise.

At one point, the ball rolled over to where my family was sitting. A little boy—the littlest, in fact—came running after his teammates, yelling: “Out of balance! Out of balance!”

We spectators giggled amongst ourselves: “Out of balance. So cute.”

The tiny guy stopped to look at us in all earnestness: “Out of balance means the ball is not on the court.” And he took off across the field after his kindergarten teammates, who’d managed to get the ball back in bounds, momentarily.

As we wiped the mirth streaming from our eyes, I thought about something a former mentor told me years ago about accepting approximations. It’s clear this little boy knows what he’s talking about. The ball was beyond the boundaries of the playing field. Never mind there wasn’t actually a court…basketball has a court, tennis has a court…he is learning. He’s in kindergarten. He will soon learn the word is bounds and that soccer is played on a field.

Certainly he will need to know the right terminology. But for now, let him develop some stamina and skills. Let him learn to be a team player. Let him love the game.

Truth is, in order to grow, sometimes things need to be kicked out of balance.

Soccer. Ashelia. CC BY-NC 2.0.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Scientific method poem

For Day 25 of VerseLove on Ethical ELA, Linda Mitchell inspires teacher-poets with the scientific method. Linda says: “The scientific process reminds me of poetry. For me, poetry is about observing, questioning and predicting–which are vital, although not the total, of the scientific process.” She challenges poets to incorporate part of the scientific method in a poem: Make an observation; ask a question; form a hypothesis or testable explanation; make a prediction based on the hypothesis; test the prediction; and iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

My poem is dedicated to students, with a question I find myself asking too often. I left the area of referral out on purpose; could be behavior, academics…

Graphic Failure

Dear Student, I see you’ve been referred.

Why have you been referred?

Maybe it’s because your teacher
is afraid.

Not of you. Not really. 

You see, in the scheme of things, 
you should be the tip of 
a hypothetical pyramid,
with all the systemic structures
supporting you—in other words,
your needs should drive
everything else

your teacher, see, 
is the next closest layer
to you

and when this pyramid is
upside down
with the ponderous weight
of systems all at the top,
by the time it reaches
your teacher, 
the pressure
is immense
(research tells me this used to be
a form of execution in ancient times,
crushing, i.e., the adding of more
and more stones)

which means that if
this colossal pyramid
is inverted
there you are
the tip at the bottom
the whole system’s 
supposed
raison d’etre
bearing it all
like Atlas

no wonder
you have been referred

it is all too much

Climb (France through my eyes) docoverachieverCC BY 2.0

In the time of broken hearts

Heard on the news this week: Broken heart syndrome is a real thing.

It happens after significant stressors. Too much adrenaline. The heart is weakened. It hurts.

There’s a scientific name for it: takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It derives from the Japanese word for “octopus trap,” after the shape of the left ventricle of the heart in this condition.

It is temporary. The broken heart can heal in a short time, maybe days or weeks.

It can sometimes lead to complications. Rarely death, though.

It seems to affect mostly women 50 and older.

But I wonder.

I wonder, as I regularly step in for teachers who are out.

I wonder, as I absorb laments and frustration and anger about the depth of student struggles.

I wonder, as I listen to students reading poems about tasting the salt of their tears.

I wonder, when I wake up so tired on workdays, when I have so little left to give when I get home.

And I am usually one to see the glass half full, to find the awe in each day, like…

the blue heron standing a glassy pond on the drive to work

the whorls of white smoke floating up from the chimney of a little house in the countryside, struck by the rising sun and transformed into clouds of peach-colored light

the newest photo of my three-month-old granddaughter who’s beginning to smile more and more

hearing my boy play old hymns on the baby grand piano at church with such a multitude of notes and joyful liveliness that surely, surely the angels dance

the one little bird (a cardinal?) singing for all it is worth, from the treetops

-these things strengthen my heart.

And keep it, I think, from breaking.

It is a long season, this pandemic, with its deep layers of residue.

On this day of celebrating love and hearts…I wish you healing peace for the pieces.

Photo: Broken Heart Chalk 2Retta Stephenson.CC BY 2.0

Collaborative Spirit

I will call it
as I see it
from the ever-shifting sands
at the shoreline
looking out
over the vast and raging sea
called School
nowadays

so much debris
in those rolling waves
flotsam and jetsam
of curriculum
of standards
a wreckage of data
certainly broken systems
and even “learning decay”
-phew-
how’s that
for positivity

it is not
that I don’t have faith

I do

I believe in kids

I believe in teachers

I believe in overcoming

I also believe
everyone doesn’t believe

and I know
as I hear the crashing waves
and the gnashing teeth
that the current
will drown us all
if we pull
apart

if only
if only
I could build a sturdy ship
I’d name it
Collaborative Spirit

and
if I could just get everyone
on board

we’d sail
over
and through
and beyond
what we can even
imagine

together

it’s just that
one person
can’t build a ship
(or relation-ship)
alone

no

building the
Collaborative Spirit
takes all hands
on deck

that’s how I call it
that’s how I see it
from the ever-shifting sands
at the shoreline
looking out
over the vast and raging sea
called School
nowadays

Wooden ship on the Rupsa River (Bangladesh). joiseyshowaa. CC BY-SA 2.0

The learning fire

cold cold classroom
how can anyone learn
teacher, wrapped in a blanket
kids wearing their coats

the teacher lights a fire
as good teachers always do
in some way or another
even if this one gives no warmth

it calms them, she says,
just the sound of it
popping and sparking—
like magic, the children get to work

the fire blazes, there on the screen
bright and merry, not consuming
—if not brought by Prometheus himself,
certainly sent through his Board

Lulling the learning: A Promethean Board casts its calming spell
in a cold classroom while the heat is repaired.

Benchmark haiku

If you’re a teacher
you’re probably assessing
current student growth

since the beginning
of this COVID-tainted year
hoping, despairing

—don’t forget caring
should also include yourself.
Numbers can’t measure

your value and worth.
You’re one of the mightiest
forces on this Earth.

A timely caption in my daily planner