This poem is about the education of a teacher when he learns dear things about humanity and self in the wilderness in order to bring the lessons back with him to the classroom.
To be fair, the art of penmanship (not penpersonship?) is dying because of the digital age. But with tighter national education standards, elementary teachers are finding less and less time to teach things like cursive. Tennessee State Representative Sheila Butt (she could never become a teacher with that name) is fighting to reestablish handwriting as a cornerstone of early education. One of her arguments is that students who do not know how to write script may not be able to read fundamental American texts in their original form. Not a bad idea. But that’s not going to help a lot boys learn how to write that way. Try this:
My school begins our testing window for second and third year high school students tomorrow. Every morning from 9-12 they will be sequestered into the same classroom for their math and reading tests. Third year students also have an entire day on Thursday from 9-2:30 with one break and a 45 minute lunch.
Not much of my poetry so far this month has been directed at the students, or written for them to hear. This one is for them. My ninjas. The last thing I will do tomorrow before the test begins is stand in front of the test takers, bow and grunt, like we do. Then everyone gets a fist bump. And as cheersing without eye contact is bad luck, bumping my fist demands focus. The last moment of human contact they will have until the test is over (unless you count the droning proctor script before each test begins, but I do not..that interaction is not human).
Time to motivate these rascals!
Do It For Your First Grade Teacher
remember back to the days
of naptime and snacks
when arithmetic flashcards were adorned with cartoon owls
and all the numbers had limbs and smiley faces
remember back to the days
when recess started every hour on the hour
and the swing set felt like a rocket ship
when there was lava
under the monkey bars and chicken peck kisses
by the basketball courts
remember hugging the woman
with tree trunk legs and horn-rimmed glasses
with her spring time sundresses
gradebook in hand greeting every student
at the door thanking them for coming
remember those days
when every child was a student of the week
she chose you because she waited everyday
until you did something spectacular:
cleaning the classroom trash, sharing your bag of cookies,
handing in the neatest work, making friends with the smelly kid
she was the first person outside of your family
to recognize your brilliance
she was the first one to be awed by your amazing
and maybe it wasn’t her
but at some point you believed in a teacher
because they believed in you
you went to school for an entire year energized and happy
because you were made to feel invincible and valuable and epic.
you are still epic
that teacher was not writing a fiction of you
you have always been valuable
even as the school system shortchanges you
and despite these tests, this stress,
the fear of the unknown on your horizon
you will always be invincible
nothing could ever convince me otherwise
but I don’t want you to think of me when you are stuck
three years into high school
three months before summer vacation
three days into these standardized tests
do it for your first grade teacher
prove everything she believed in you came true
prove to her
no matter how much education has sucked away your soul
or cornered your creativity
she made you invincible
not for me, not for your school, not for the data
do it for the first teacher who believed in you
show them you believe too
I did this last Saturday as well. These words are a visual representation of the 7 poems I wrote this week about our conflicted education system.
The more frequently I wrote the word, the larger it appears in the word cloud. I am happy to note that the word test is smaller than last week! I think the value of this word cloud is to gain a glimpse of what I value as a teacher. Students, people, teachers. And words like believe, reflection, attitude and being.
I have two more weeks of this poem a day project. I hope you continue to share on Facebook and Twitter, offering encouragement, and keep the issue of shaping our youth close to your heart.