Tag Archives: English teacher poem

#184: The American English Teacher Makes A To-Do List

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The number and the analogy may have been different,
but I swear I said to at least two of my colleagues today,
“Do you ever feel like a web browser with 2,879 tabs open?”
And both of these colleagues said the same thing:
“All. The. Time.”
If I could make a catalogue of all the issues
that seem pressing to me on a minute-by-minute
basis over the course of my teacher work day,
there may indeed be 2,879 items in that list.
To test the theory, I took 20 minutes of my prep
period, got out my notebook, and wrote at the top
of a blank page: To Do. When I was finished,
I had two pages and they looked (please excuse
my scrawl) like this:

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And I’m starting to realize of late, as if for the
first time in my career, not only is it true that
teachers (especially English teachers)
have 2,879 things to think about and do,
but that, finally, that’s not okay. It’s absurd, in fact.
The teaching gig has become a kind of a
mad juggling act, trying to keep in the air
and not drop a hundred different things at once
while trying to do a credible job,
while trying to meet expectations that seem
almost superhuman or messianic,
while trying to be all things to all people,
while coming to terms with the fact that
as the work gets harder, the expectations
become higher, and as teachers coming into
the field seem to me better prepared,
smarter, more progressive, more caring,
more effective than they have ever been,
the difficulty of the work they’re expected
to tackle has increased to a level that far surpasses
what their preparedness, their intelligence,
their pedagogical acumen, and their kindness
has equipped them to do.
And I fear this response even while
I know in my heart of hearts it’s not true:
Michael, you’re just getting old, tired, burning out;
it only seems twenty times more difficult
because you’re twenty times closer to
retirement than you used to be.
No, I say, hell no. It is not my imagination
and it is not my age and I am not burning
out. I only sometimes despair that I will
never see a day when education works
the way I know it could work, when
teaching and learning are at the core
and the system is built to support
this herculean humanitarian effort,
when theory and practice come together,
when the mantra transcends this line
from Beckett’s Worstward Ho: 

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

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#25: The American Teenager Has A Theory About Walt Whitman

Walt

The American Teenager Has A Theory About Walt Whitman

Looking for inspiration for
his own portrait of the poet,
referencing a famous drawing
of Uncle Walt,
hand on his hip, in a gesture
of confidence, I’d say,
with a kind of challenging
and quizzical look in his
handsome, young face,
the boy says,
Was Walt Whitman gay?
And I say,
Well, now that you’ve
drawn a broad stereotype
based on a single pose in a drawing,
based on a single image of the poet,
the truth of the matter is that, yes,
he was most likely gay.
The boy’s portrait turns out
to be a nightmare,
homophobic and offensive,
Walt, rather impressively drawn,
but adorned with lipstick
and eye make-up,
wearing a nurse’s cap.
I’m angry, and displaying the
work to the entire class,
I explain why this one
won’t be on display in
the classroom, how it
is wrong on so many levels,
even getting the stereotype backwards,
assuming gay men must really want to
be women, but worse, attempting to make fun
of the poet’s sexual orientation
by turning him into some kind of clown.
But what truly amazes
me is the boy’s good natured response,
as if in a moment he could actually see
something he couldn’t see as he was feeling
so clever about his apparently accurate theory
about Walt and giddy about his ingenious artistic
representation. He could see
for a moment the wrong turns
of his thinking, the assumptions he was making,
and suddenly for him “weird” became just “different”
and of absolutely no threat or consequence
to the way this boy chose to live his own life.
And in that same moment
I felt I had actually done some teaching.

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