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.

Lament and celebration poem

with thanks to Andrew Moore, host of Sunday’s Open Write on Ethical ELA. Andrew challenged teacher-poets to compose around lament plus celebration (these don’t have to be related; this is meant to be exercise in writing freely, in any form). He writes: “My inspiration comes from a distinct lack of good sadness, grief, and lament beside a healthy laugh and looking forward to the changes the future may bring.” The poem can be as light-hearted, silly, or serious as the poet desires.

Here’s where I am today:

Remains

Today, I mourn 
the destruction of trees along my rural byways
the displacement of wildlife
the destruction of Ukraine
the displacement of her people
the systemic demoralization of teachers
the systemic misplacement of trust

Today, I celebrate
the remnants
of trees
wildlife
Ukraine
her people
teachers
trust

Today, I hope
for restoration
in revelation 
and reverence

before all
become revenants

“The Elephant – great destruction.” Public domain. Note the trees, the cities, the elephant all in stages of disappearing … elephants, by the way, symbolize wisdom, memory, prosperity

******

with thanks also to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

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

Most meaningful moments in school: A student’s perspective

Jumping for joy

Jumping for joy. kilgarronCC BY

“So,” I ask the student, “what are some of your favorite memories from all your time in elementary school?”

She’s working on her fifth grade graduation speech. Making this farewell address to the school is part of her official role as Student Council President. She’s struggling with framing her thoughts, which is why I’m here.

She looks off in the distance, past the walls of the room where we’re sitting, scrolling back over the chapters of her young life. I wonder what she’s remembering. Maybe a time she accomplished something she thought she couldn’t? Winning a class competition? A book that a teacher read aloud? A moment in a lesson when she learned something powerful that will remain with her for the rest of her life? I hope that’s it because I want to know it. And tap into it.

Finally she smiles. “There was this one time my first grade teacher just started tossing candy around the room.”

I blink. “Um, okay . . . why did she do that?”

The student shrugs, still smiling. “I don’t know. I don’t think there was a reason. I just remember she had a lot of candy and she started tossing it around for us and the other classes.”

Six years of elementary school and this is her favorite memory.

Having nothing to do with learning, achieving, growing, or rationale . . . but everything to do with spontaneous joy.

“All right then,” I say as I jot notes. “You can put this in your speech. Maybe call it the time you remember it ‘raining candy’ and explain what your teacher did.”

“That’s good,” she nods.

“Can you think of any other special or meaningful moments from all your time here?”

I wait as she scrunches her face a bit, thinking hard. Then another big grin:

“Yeah, the time the fourth grade teachers got together and sang to our classes.”

They sang? I never knew they did this. I’m curious. “Why did the teachers sing to you?”

“Just for fun, I think.”

Her eyes are so bright.

We finish fleshing out the draft of her speech. She is pleased. As she heads back to her classroom, I walk the hallways, replaying the conversation, mulling the moments that hold significance for such an accomplished student.

Just simple, unscripted, uninhibited moments when teachers were having fun.

How few and far between are they?

But how priceless to students, in the long educational scheme of things.

I walk on, carrying both the lightness and the weight of it.

The value of value

Rose & shadow

Rose and shadow. ankakayCC BY

We have a new principal at our school.

On his office wall is a certificate presented to him by his previous school: “Most likely to make you feel appreciated and valued.”

That word, valued, set my thoughts firing like electrical arcs in a dozen directions.

The first thing that came to mind, strangely, was an image of light and shadow. From an artist’s perspective, in artist terminology, value is the shading that gives depth to a two-dimensional object, almost magically transforming it visually to three dimensions. Values make an image pop, bring it to life.

A fascinating concept for a leader of a school, or any leader, isn’t it – to be an artist of sorts, to harness the light and the shadows of the given entity, to have a vision, to go beyond the surface and bring depth, meaning, and make it work. Artistically speaking, that’s the value of value.

Another image was immediately conjured – the vast machinery of systems. Have you ever had the sensation of being a tiny cog rotating in a mind-boggling conglomeration of structures that do not fit well or operate properly together, with old, vintage pieces welded precariously to shiny new ones, like something out of steampunk? As the cogs we cannot even see the full extent of the machinery looming far beyond us; we can only feel the unwieldy vibrations as it lumbers on. That’s often how education feels today. In truth, it’s not the structures that hold things together and keep everything running – it’s the cogs, the teachers. Teachers are the most crucial pieces – and the end product isn’t the perfectly standardized student. The students aren’t end products at all – don’t we want them to keep growing, learning, discovering, contributing, as long as they live? That’s something no machinery can produce.

Which gets back to value.

To value something means to hold it in high regard, to recognize its worth and usefulness. We value things that are important and beneficial to us.

My thoughts branch out into a hierarchy of what-ifs:

What if systems valued schools more than data? What if they scaled back and simplified rather than adding on?

What if principals communicated their value of teachers through their actions instead of words?

What if teachers made all students feel valued – and valued their differences? And taught students to do the same?

What if everyone realized that these are matters of the human heart and spirit?

I can see the light and shadows separating already, magically transforming things, creating a depth that’s been needed for so long.

slice-of-life_individual