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

Question (of literacy) poem

On behalf of children, on Day Twenty-Three of National Poetry Month

Speaking Points (Do They?)

Glowing screen split into
graphs, trendlines, colors
a virtual sea of data
and faces of colleagues floating
with the question:
“You are the literacy person—
what do you think?”

What I think is that
there’s no secret code
or formula
or magic bullet
or any infallible translation
of impersonal little dots
scattered like breadcrumbs
leading to ponderous conclusions
about the beating heart
of a living, breathing child
and so I say,
“I don’t know what I think
until I hear this child read.”

For while the thunder of uncertainty rumbles
and pedagogies rise and fall
like generations
on billowing waves,
I cannot imagine the whole
of my own existence
crammed into little dots
for others to interpret
the magnitude of my story
or divining and defining
the scope of my future
without ever hearing
my voice

Child’s hands at the window. Nenad Stojkovic. CC BY

*******

with thanks to teacher-poet Angie Braaten for the suggestion of writing around “an important question you’ve been asked,” using this format:

Stanza 1: Question

Stanza 2: Answer

Stanza 3: Reflection

The little hand

Hands

Untitled mural. Rob SwystunCC-BY

She’s the tiniest student in our first grade class, beautifully dressed, hair neatly swept up in beaded ponytail holders. She speaks little; she is shy. Her big brown eyes, framed with long, thick lashes, take in everything. 

I often catch her eyes resting on me. I wonder what she’s thinking. I smile at her. She looks away, but I can see the corners of her mouth twisting up, that she’s deliberately suppressing her natural response.

I am not the teacher; I am a teacher in training, working as an assistant. The teacher soon pairs me with this tiny girl. We are to read together for a few minutes every day. My shy friend is a struggling learner.

She has many struggles.

I learn that this child is the oldest of several siblings and that they all live with their grandmother. This child suffers with asthma – common ground with me.

“I have asthma, just like you,” I tell her one day.

“You do?” Little eyebrows elevate over the big brown eyes. She studies my face, and for the first time, a smile breaks over her solemn countenance, like a flicker of light.

The teacher and I notice how our little girl scratches herself, her arms and her neck in particular. Patches of thick, scaly skin appear to be eczema – they flare when she’s stressed. She scratches and scratches.

I take over the class while the teacher ushers our friend to the sink and shows her how to use a nail brush to clean away the necrotic tissue collecting under her fingernails.

After conversations with Grandma, a tub of cream is brought to school. When we open it, the cream is peppered with flakes of our little friend’s skin, from multiple dabbings and applications.

On the worst days, we take turns holding her in our laps, rocking her while she cries, holding her hands in ours to keep her from scratching and drawing blood, while the other kids run and play at recess or spread across the room to do their work.

The teacher fears that the thick patches of skin are permanently altered.

We cry, too.

One morning, after an unpleasant encounter with an adult in the building, I enter the classroom and find a quiet place to sit away from the children. Passing by, en route to morning meeting, the teacher whispers to me: “Are you all right?”

“I will be,” I reply. “I just need a minute to breathe.”

As the students gather on the floor around the teacher, my tiny friend creeps over to me. She crawls up in my lap, featherweight that she is. I put my arms around her. 

She reaches out her little hand and pats my neck.

Your skin is all red,” she says.

And she sits there with me, not to be comforted this time, but to comfort. The only child who perceived that something wasn’t right.

She rocks, humming a tune. I don’t know it. Turns out that my friend is a singer – there’s an astonishingly big, expressive voice inside that tiny ravaged body.

She begins singing more and more. She makes us laugh – her classmates love to hear her. 

One afternoon, after several weeks of reading together – beginning with picture walks and my reading pages to the girl and her reading them back to me, repeating until she can read with few to no errors, with increasingly complex books – she sits regally in the chair beside me and takes the new book out of my hand before I can introduce it.

“I can do it myself,” she announces.

I hold my breath the entire time, restraining myself from intervening as she works through this new, harder text on her own. She labors in some places, but she keeps moving, until the final word.

“YOU DID IT!” I shout. People walking at the end of the hallway stop and turn around.

My little friend, face aglow, radiant, throws her braided head back and laughs for all she’s worth.

I carry those moments – I carry her – in a corner of my heart forever.

For me there’s no question of who really taught whom, who was the greater blessing to the other.

Many years have passed, but when I think of diverse student needs, of overcoming, I see her solemn face, her beautiful eyes. I hear her cries, her laughter, and marvel at the resilience of children. I feel the pat of her little hand, the innate empathy in it, born of suffering, recognizing suffering, seeking to alleviate it; our exterior, our skin, is not the whole of us. Her songs, resonant with untaught vibrato, bubbling up from some pure wellspring deep within, represent the indomitable human spirit – full to overflowing, even in the face of hardship, even in the smallest of us.