Poetry is Pedagogy: Digitally Impared Witness

when I say Yemen I am
describing a video game
where there are asteroids
threatening my ship &
I destroy—when I say funeral
I mean that I have seen
people in the ground on TV
before, the way I have seen rubble
the way I have sadness—how
when I say Ankara, it must be some
pitcher who threw pitches once &
when I say once I mean way more
than once, more than a singular
time—when I say I
read something online actually I mean
I know someone much wiser
touching a Keats telling me the
length of a daring lock of love—a pluck
I mean Barbie—Ken I mean gym mus
cles I have softened—& mirror I think
of someone’s vacation I dreamed &
how I loved every minute of zip
lie—I meant, yeah
man, I live right around the corner

Handwriting: A Casualty of the Tests


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:


SLAM: Do It For Your First Grade Teacher

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!

Get it, yo! We are listening!

Get it, yo! We are listening!

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

Week 2 Poetry Word Cloud

Courtesy of Word It Out

Courtesy of Word It Out

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.

How to Memorize π

π like a boss

π like a boss


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.