Pedagogy poem

with thanks to Glenda Funk on Ethical ELA’s Open Write today: “What do you owe to pedagogy? Today I’d like us to consider this question and compose a poem in which we explore an idea related to pedagogy, the methods by which we teach, the methods by which we learn. The poem does not necessarily have to be about school. Simply think about teaching and learning as a global phenomenon.”

This is the poem that came today, in reflecting on what I owe to pedagogy… of course, it’s a story-poem…

The Heart of Pedagogy

Little boy in the shop
at Christmastime
spends his money
on a gift for his mom

a matted illustration
of a bird holding a primer
encircled by a flowery heart
and these words:

A teacher
in wisdom and kindness
helps children learn to do
exactly what they thought
could not be done

-Honey, it’s beautiful!
I love it, says his mom,
even though
I am not a teacher

Little boy grins
in his snaggletoothed way:
Yes you are, Mama

She sees the bright belief
there in his face

she cannot bring herself
to diminish it

for maybe she would be a teacher
if only she had finished college

which she does, many years later.

The boy can’t attend
to see her walk across the stage
because he’s taking final exams
at the university
where he’s a history major

-What are you going to do
with that degree?
everyone asks him
-are you going to teach?

No
He’s emphatic:
I do not want to be
a teacher
No

which is, of course,
the path that immediately opens
leading him right back
to the very classroom
where he was a student
where he finds
his old AP history exams
stashed in the cabinet.

The summation of the matter:
we’ve both done
exactly what we thought
could not be done
haven’t we, Boy

for in the end
as in the beginning
teaching is about believing

then in finding
a way.

The Boy’s gift has remained on my bookcase for over two decades. He was in high school when I returned to college. The verse became the foundation of my teaching philosophy as I obtained my degree and additional certifications. It applies even now to the coaching work I do with teachers. As for the Boy: he was a beloved high school history teacher and soccer coach for several years before entering the seminary for divinity degrees and the pastorate. In awe, I watch him teaching his young daughters…and remember.

What child is this

African Angel Boy. bixentroCC BY 

What child is this, who, laid to rest . . . .

Snow is falling. Huge flakes like white feathers shaken from the sky, a rare thing in the North Carolina Piedmont at the beginning of December.

Another rare thing: Today a former student is buried.

He was eleven years old.

I stand at the kitchen window, watching the snowflakes fall. Eleven years. That is all he had.

An only child. A latched seat belt—I can envision his mother reminding him—wasn’t enough.

I begin wondering about enough.

Did we do enough?

Nearly the whole of his short life was spent at elementary school. How much of our focus was data and test scores? Did he feel successful?

College and career ready doesn’t matter at all when you die at eleven.

Should it matter so much when you don’t die at eleven?

Were we enough? Did he enjoy coming to school, or did he endure it? 

I can hardly endure the heaviness of that thought.

The bleakness of the gray December day, but for the snow, matches the bleakness in my soul. On the television in the living room, Christmas music softly plays:

What child is this . . . .

He is Everychild now. Mine, yours, ours, all children, coming to school, day after day.

Do they have the chance to get out of the box, before they’re put in a box?

Do they have the opportunity to develop a hunger for knowledge? Do their teachers create dynamic experiences that empower the children to own their own learning? Or are the children starved for authenticity, their minds and days numbed by worksheets, by sameness, by constant assessment, by irrelevance, by teachers in survival mode, by hierarchical machinery?

Underneath all those wheels in motion lies the child. Motionless. Powerless.

Haunting that such a beautiful snow should pour on such an ugly day, for snow can mean many things beyond ice crystals. It represents death, yes, but also wisdom, purity, innocence, blessing.

Wisdom, blessing, and strength to you, Everyteacher, for Everychild in your hands. Strive for more than enough. For joy, for awe, for love-of-learning-for-life ready. There’s no way of knowing whether this child will live a hundred years, or just eleven.

What child is this, who, laid to rest . . . whom angels greet, with anthems sweet . . . .

Every minute matters.