More to come! Poems, reflections, gratitude. So much more to come!
Critical understanding for those who think their teaching is ‘good enough’ or their students are not!
The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys.
I have made a terrible mistake.
I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!
This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…
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I have been sitting on this poem for a long time. Over the summer, two students passed away in separate automobile related accidents in New Mexico. Both were graduates of the class of 2012. Both had hearts of gold. I composed this poem during a summer poem-a-day workshop the week of the first students’ passing. I was clumsy in my writing during that week because of her passing.
The day of her passing, before I knew of it, I was in the library watching an elderly woman reading the newspaper. I composed a piece about reading the obituary column and finding the light of life in strangers. It was a beautiful moment. It was a dark moment.
Later, I tried to write her a love poem, but decided, in revising, that a stronger voice was writing to the love of my life. And so the writing carried the student in, but the poem left her behind.
Then the newspaper came out with a brief note about her death. The gory details and little else. It felt so impersonal and frighteningly vague. So I decided to write a better story. For a better news. For her.
It was intensely emotional reading it to my fellow poets. It wasn’t emotional until it was loud. Until it was spoken. Our living is this way. The important moments are loud: the crying baby, the applause of graduating, the celebration of marriage. It is why people remember eulogies and not obituaries.
This was also the poem that spurned a new project that may or may not have legs. I have been experimenting with a way of using voice to play with meaning and audience. This was the first work that incorporated the second person voice to interplay with the she in the news. The poem from a few weeks ago is a strong example of where that ‘voice’ has taken me. You. You should call your mother!
As well, this poem was a chance to play with the page and recreate the newspaper aesthetic, as if the weekly columned print could be a creative expression. And as a footnote to the creative word, I included a mashup screenshot of the news article that detailed the poor woman’s death. Bleeding profusely. If you had never met her, the story begins and ends there. I didn’t want that to be the case.
This poem has complicated syntax and does not fit well into a conservative view of space and time. In these moments, my grieving was greatly complicated and perhaps transcendent in some way. It gave me the chance to reimagine this shining of light of a student/young woman. To give her passing a new voice and grace. If all you have is the news clipping, then all you have is the red against the pavement. The pooling blood.
Well, in remembering, red cannot heart a ceremony beadwork soul.
Thank you, MS. I miss you.
It’s national poetry day, so I guess I should post something. A large part of me wants to soapbox about education, but I couldn’t pass the opportunity to share this little guy on my blog. That’s nephew, Finn, who shares a birthday with Gandhi (today). He’s poised to earn enough tickets for a plush toy or whatever his heart desires.
And the best poem I know was announced on Facebook yesterday: my Lovely Love and I plan to wed next year. She posted something on her blog about us, and I said I would do the same. Here goes. A poem about wedding planning.
Here’s nothing, Universe.
There is no reason, in my mind, to wait for the dust to settle on issues before ruminating on them and expressing myself. I find that once the issue has been ‘resolved’, whether it be Israel-Palestine or Trayvon Martin or Renisha McBride or Ersula Orr, the resolution often is a great sweep of the dust under the rug to hide the deeper roots of the issue. The media moves on. The school year or summer continues. And, anyway, it’s almost Black Friday. America can address her problems through turning the blind eye of justice toward the funny Vines instead.
Earlier this month, I posted a poem about Gaza and Israel. I think it is a work in progress. I know I need more time with it. But I needed to address it creatively. It is a minor healing. It is my part. No matter how haphazard, or one sided. Some poetry, but not all, is safer because the lines of right and wrong are everyone’s responsibility to grapple with. So here is another work in progress for Ferguson. To help all sides. Buried within are allusions to the Civil Rights movement, the Civil War, the Tree of Liberty, the media treatment of our domestic issues, and the inner dialogue of witness. Find a way to express yourself, or it will eat at you. You may even be complicit.
The school year starts (incredibly) this week, and I think I am relieved to have written this poem before we begin. It does not absolve me from talking about it with my students or enable easier conversations about our world. But as with most situations, once I have reflected poetically only then can I communicate or dialogue about my feelings on a situation with my mind and heart working together. And true to my process from March when I was writing a poem a day and posting the work on this blog, today’s poem was composed, revised, and formatted this afternoon in the last two hours. I hope it opens something in you, or gives a new angle by which to enter the conflict for yourself. I hope it stands as a poem of witness for the atrocities and peace.