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.
3.1415926535897932384626433832795098841971693992751 058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679 821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284 811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644 2881097566593344612847
Study these facts for the Math test on Tuesday.
I am 3.14 decades from mastering my craft as a teacher.
592 more essays to revise before I can save 65 students from misusing commas.
The length of 35,897 staff meeting doodles can stretch across the equator 932 times.
38,462 Domino’s pizzas are served in 6,433 cafeterias every Friday for school lunch.
There are 832 different texts in my school’s 79 square foot library.
509 students are interacting through Xbox right now.
8 of my students are writing poetry on a Friday night slamming the 841 ways a heart can break.
There are approximately 97,169 minutes until graduation and 3,992 dreams that will change, expire, birth and evolve before then.
75 pages of Watership Down are assigned for Wednesday’s class, but the students have to answer 1,058,029 test questions between now and then so only 7 will come to class prepared.
There are barely more than 49 months before this year’s eighth graders will be trying on their gowns and mortarboards for the greatest day of their life.
44 students are existentialists contemplating their place in life and overlooking the 592 parallel universes in which their individual dramas play out in life.
30,781,640 people in this country believe that evolution should not be taught in schools and 6,286 people believe Noah will run for Vice President on Adam’s ticket in the next election.
208 school districts being seduced by 99 lobbyists are affecting exactly 8 positive outcomes for education.
Sometimes I wish only 6 more students would care to learn about the power of a persuasive essay.
2,803 more minutes are about to slip away from my life before this exercise ends.
3,482 parents have to take on second jobs each school year directly resulting in 53,421 uncompleted homework assignments.
I have on good word that all 17 people in my classroom will go on to create positive change in the world and 0 will forget my name.
On a good day, 679 synapses fire back to grade school when I teach about suffixes and prefixes.
I leave school every day wishing I could do 82 things differently tomorrow.
The 14 people working in my high school defy 808 impossibilities every morning.
I believe in the number 65. I do.
Did you know the number 132 is a pronic number, the product of eleven and twelve?
Interstate 82 connects Ellensburg, WA and Umatilla, Oregon. And 30 kindergarten students would laugh at the word Umatilla. And probably 6 high school juniors would too.
The average college student today will pay upwards of $64,709 on college tuition at a public university.
There are exactly 38 United States capitals that my students are aware exist. I am sorry, Dover and Augusta.
44 is a pretty number.
609 is the area code of South Jersey, the capital of American shore pines.
55 students are truants every day in order to homeschool themselves.
Exactly 0 people are excited about π at this point.
Somewhere around 58,223 I lose count.
March 17 is the only day of the year until I get to wear an Irish tie without being obnoxious. And even then, there is a 25% chance I will be 35 times more obnoxious than the 940,812 other teachers wearing similar ties.
There are approximately 848 more poems to write about teaching this March, of which only 11 of them will be worth reading..
74 people will obtain four-year college scholarships and spend a 5th year of college on their own dime because they want 0 of the real world.
There are 28 days of February and nearly 410,270 teachers go crazy during this time.
In 1938, John Dewey published a seminal book on education and less than 5,211 educators know this man other than the Patron Saint of Librarians.
0 people believe 555 is a legitimate area code in movies.
9,644 teachers are currently considering the 6 ways they could do something other than teaching with their lives only to show up for the next 22 years in order to reach retirement age and cash in on those 9 golden years before realizing they’ll need to continue working for the next 489 years.
’54 is the year of a landmark case made real a few years later when black girls like Minnijean Brown became women in Little Rock, and 930 months later in the third decade of this century, 38,196,442 students will still deal with inequalities with their education.
My 88 year old grandfather fought approximately 1,097 days in the Pacific during WWII.
5665 is a palindrome and 9 thousand people mistakenly think 3344 is one too.
The release of Highway 61 influenced a generation of Americans to believe Bob Dylan is our greatest American troubadour in need of revisiting.
28 is the second mathematical perfect number, with two of its factors being the neat and tidy 4 and 7. You can’t make that stuff up.
A Couple of Tests Debrief the Morning
“Student 0461 was really off base
on #17. It marked C with a heavy bubble
then erased to B, erased, marked A, then C
and the answer was D, none of the above. Those messy bubbles
would have made whatever answer wrong anyway.”
“My Math section was online and every it took about ten minutes
for the entire set of twenty questions. An it can’t get any correct
when each answer takes half a minute.”
“You should have seen 14335 try to explain
the periodic table in the short response portion.
It made a bullet list without mention of metals
or noble gasses.”
“Anyone else have an it skip every question
“This one it
charted data points
on an F-U axis
plotting the answer with a connect-the-dots
middle finger. Points for creativity?”
“I wonder if the teachers of this it shared the questions.
Look! 14 out of 15 correct. We should monitor it
tomorrow. The test is supposed to be hard.
This data isn’t reliable.”
“I really wonder what 7652 has in store for us tomorrow.
The lyrics of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ for the essay prompt?
It will never pass anything with that attitude.”
“I really love how confusing someone made the second question
on Reading 1. Each it had a different response
to infer the meaning of the word human from the excerpt.
Did any of these its have a competent teacher?”
“One it took two hours
for the Science section. Irony!
It missing a question on species classification?
Almost too much!”
—The New Test Mantra—
Teaching Teachers about Boredom
helping students name their afflictions would be something
extraordinary: just the thesaurus
would cure them of the lethargies. or lassitudes.
ennui? are they
restive? is it the bell schedule monotony
or the dull light of dissatisfaction?
color them on the spectrum
of apathy and frustration
because I think exasperated
might be more apt than indifferent.
true boredom is unattainable
if one owns an imagination, but kids are taught
out of that and into grown up shoes
with times tables, treatises and tablet screens
well before they’ll see you.
so in defense of the endless mind
structure daydreaming into instructional time
and call it brainstorming. give them possibilities
to work with,
problems or paragraphs
school does not have to be boring
but you may be backed into many corners
learning how it will be.