Tag Archives: poem about teaching

#348: On the Last Day of National Poetry Month, the American English Teacher Writes Several Minimalist Poems About Things He Finds in the Staff Lounge

Coffee

Made a single cup;
fuel needed after waking
at 4 in the morning.

Vinegar

There’s a bottle of balsamic
on the table, waiting to be
drizzled over someone’s
leftovers for lunch.

100 Hits

Here’s a copy of
Billboard’s Hottest
Hot 100 Hits, a gift to
the staff lounge
from an intern of mine
from two years ago.
His name was Chuck.

History Adoption

In an era that finds
the textbook mostly
obsolete, several choices
are on display on a table
in the staff lounge.

Vending Machines

Chips, candy, and soda.
Only one sugarless choice:
seltzer. These machines
keep humming.

Crap

There’s some crap in here
no one uses and no one wants:
desk organizers, empty binders,
old VHS tapes that Melanie left,
a 2016 copy of U.S. News &
World Report, the “Find the Best
Colleges for You” edition.

Who? 

Who will throw out the crap?
Who will clean the microwave?
It belongs to nobody.
It’s nobody’s business.

The Lounge

The principal before
the one before the one
we have now, maybe
15 years ago, bought
two burgundy love seats,
a matching chair, and
a coffee table that looks
like a box in order to
beautify the lounge
and make it  more
comfortable.

Dr. Rex Putnam Award

Candidate summaries. Please,
DO NOT REMOVE.

We Love You

in gigantic letters
taped up on the wall
from last year’s teacher
appreciation week,
maybe even from the
year before. It’s so hard
to keep track of the love.
We have to remind ourselves
by looking at this wall
every day.

 

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#347: A Prose Poem Meditation on the Penultimate Day of National Poetry Month by the American English Teacher in His Potentially Penultimate Professional Year, Ending in a Rhyming Couplet

Andrea Ngyuen

The natives are restless, the 9th graders are rowdy, won’t stop talking, interrupt almost every teacher phrase with chatter, and because my intern has the class, I am completely unruffled. It’s the penultimate day of National Poetry Month and this is my penultimate poem in prose in the April of my potentially penultimate school year as a classroom English teacher.

Over the last three days, I wrote three poems, each about travel, each ending with the same sentence. You are here. I’m reminded of that saying, wherever you go, there you are. Or the Player’s line in the Stoppard play, something like, every exit is an entrance somewhere else. Coming and going, with perfect equanimity, you are always, and I am always, right here.

After next school year, in this moment, I am almost certain that I will not be here. But uncertainty is a constant companion. I said, it feels like jumping off a cliff. Or standing on a cliff, and maybe I’m looking down at a precipitous drop or looking out on some astounding vista. It really depends on the moment. I prefer vistas to drop-offs. In this moment, I choose vistas.

I notice what this poem is doing. Without my being conscious of it, paragraphs are landing in this draft in nearly identical chunks of five lines, four that move all the way to the end of the margin, and one, the last line–two, three, and then four words long. Now, I am conscious of a pattern, and I am planning to end this stanza in prose with a short line of five carefully chosen words.

It all depends on the margins. Type this poem up in a Word document, or publish it on your blog, and things will shift. Our margins shift like this. The only margin that doesn’t shift is the first one–our births are non-negotiable; on this day, December 4, 1964, you were born. Our careers begin somewhere in the squishy regions of early adulthood, and, if we are lucky, very lucky, they end 30-some years later.

My brother worked over 40 years at a job he didn’t really like. His retirement at 62 or thereabouts was an escape. He said good riddance and walked away. And he walked away so late because there were no other options. Again, I have been stupidly lucky. Luckier, and not so lucky, as my father, who retired, like I hope to, at 55. He had full health care from the moment he left work.

But I have loved my job, and I don’t know that my father loved his. He never spoke about it. I could hardly even tell you now what it was that he did for a living. It was a government job and he worked downtown and once he took a computer class and brought home a bunch of punch cards. My son knows what I do simply by virtue of his being a student in a public school classroom. What your teacher does–that’s your Dad.

God, look at all of these books, file cabinets full of 30-years worth of handouts, lesson plans, readings, exams; check out all of this student generated art that I’ve never tossed, that quilt for The Color Purple, the portraits of the family from Geek Love, portraits of Virginia Woolf, the beautiful and huge broadside of William Stafford’s “Your Life”-the treasured haul of an English teacher’s career.

If I take all of this home my wife will murder me.
Health care will no longer be an issue, ironically.  

Abbey Nims

I don’t know who made this. A team of students. Circa 1995ish? 

 

Abbey Hayes

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#311: Warning

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Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate
anything in this room.
This bag is not a toy.
This thing right here: do not eat.
Watch your step.
If symptoms persist,
consult your physician.
I am out of band-aids.
Men below, please don’t throw.
Slow children.
This hand sanitizer is
flammable. Think about
that for a minute.
Do not flush.
Pull only in an emergency.
Do not spray your perfume
in a crowded classroom, you idget.
Listening only occurs when
your mouth is closed.
Reading only happens when
your eyes are on the page,
and even then, sometimes not.
Sometimes Y.
Failure to listen and read
may result in abject stupidity.
Don’t tell me it wasn’t you, or
that you weren’t doing anything.
The first part is undeniably false,
the second may be true, but
that’s the whole problem.
Duck and cover.
Don’t look for hidden meaning.
There is no hidden meaning,
only meaning that you can’t see,
which is an altogether different thing.

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#303: The American English Teacher Strategizes for Kids Who Don’t Read

nonreaders

He assigns the pages
and when class convenes
he understands in short order
that only a few kids have bothered
to do the reading.
The age old dilemma of
the high school English teacher:
what can be done if kids won’t read,
not can’t, but won’t or don’t?

Reading everything in class,
either out loud or in silence
will get the reading part
of the job done, but it takes
forever, can be dull, leaves nothing
left over for discussion or
any kind of deeper analysis,
no time for paydirt, for fun.

There’s the ubiquitous
threat of a quiz or a test which
either lights a fire under their seats
or, more likely, just punishes most
everyone and rewards a few.
This English teacher is loath
to purposefully use assessment
as a “gotcha” move, punitive
and ineffectual. So then what?

Yesterday, one of his students made a
suggestion: We’ll do the reading during
one class, then we’ll talk about it
the next! What he was angling for,
essentially, is simply a world without
homework. And the American English teacher
finds himself, often, saying in response
to this proposal: Why the hell not?

Read less, read better.
Read better, like it more.
Like it more, read more.
Read more, do it willingly
as homework in later grades.
This seems like it could be
a formula for success, one that
in his 29th year of teaching,
he has suspected would work
all along, but only ever half-
heartedly employed as a practice.

Meanwhile, the American
English teacher assigns his
students an art project with
some directed text search
for the key developments
of chapters 4 and 5. Are they
able to do the work if they
haven’t read? Only if they
do the work now and work hard.
Are they at a serious advantage
if they actually did the reading
ahead of time? Certainly.
Is it possible that everyone
wins in this situation? Yes.
Is there anything wrong with that?
He doesn’t think so.
The students work diligently
throughout the period
and have good conversations.
But there’s still the nag
in the teacher’s heart that
somehow he’s handling them
with kid gloves. Imagine,
he thinks, handling kids with
kid gloves. O, the horror:
teaching within the tragic
gap between what is possible
and what is a reality.

 

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#279: The English Teacher Reveals the Writing Prompt for the Day

Unknown

The English teacher reveals the writing
prompt for the day and tells his students
to start writing and one student doesn’t
have his notebook and while it’s supposed
to be quiet another kid tells the kid
without a notebook that he saw him
leave it inside the lunchroom and
the notebookless kid doesn’t believe
him and for the first three minutes of
the quiet writing time these two boys
are arguing about whether or not the
one kid knows where the other kid
without his notebook
left his notebook.

The English teacher tries to shut
them up so that the other students
can have quiet time to write but
the argument between the boys is
so distracting that words begin
to fail him as he repeats the instructions
in a way that sounds to him incomprehensible
but nevertheless engages his students
in a fury of feverish free writing.

 

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#244: On Listening to Students Talk about Seamus Heaney’s Poetry

heaney2

Over three
days I listened
to 24 young
people talk
for 20 minutes
a piece about
literature, and 10 of
those 20 minutes
were dedicated to
speaking about
a single poem
by Seamus Heaney.

Most of them
did fine work,
but I couldn’t help
recognize and remember
and then start to
record particular
phrases or beginnings
that I think I heard
over and over again.

To wit:

K. So.
This one.
First I thought.
I’d like to begin.
What I noticed first.
What I noticed right away.
I think.

The title.
In the first stanza.
The speaker.
As the poem progresses.
The audience.
And then.
In the middle.
And then.
Finally, the last.

K. So. Um.
Uh. And stuff like that.
The occasion.
Eventually, the purpose.
In this poem.

Regarding structure.
Seven, five, ten, four,
whatever is half of a
pentameter. Rhyme,
off-rhyme, slant rhyme,
near rhyme, maybe if you heard
it in an Irish accent,
there would be more rhyme.
Childhood,
Lost innocence,
The Troubles,
Capital letters at the start,
bog bodies.

This is a poem.

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#217: Poem on the 26th of the Month of April

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My head is empty of poems;
instead it’s full
of Shakespeare,
trying to hold on to
my lines even though
the run is over.
I found myself
running some of
them today for
no other reason
than to see if I
could do it. My mind
is full of The Flaming Lips
because I’ve been
listening to them again
almost non-stop
and that’s why I’ve
made no progress
toward the G section
of the collection.
My head is full of
excitement about
drumming again.
And it’s full of dread,
too, because of
how behind I am
in my grading
as a result of that show
that sucked up
all my spare time
and for which I
have no regrets
because I am sure
that the sacrifices
I made in teaching
to make room to do
a Shakespeare play
more likely than not
made me a better teacher.
Sometimes I believe
(or know) that grading
is the least important
part of what I do and
that acting, drumming
and writing poems, all
those things that are
best for me, are also
the best things I could
be doing for my students.

 

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#185: The American English Teacher Crosses Off All The Items From His To-Do List

To-Do

He does it.
He crosses off
all the items from
his to-do list.
Many of the things
he crosses off
were things he
actually did, others,
not so much.
But he wants
them off the list
so he crosses them
out. Some of those
unfinished-crossed-off
items will end up on
other to-do lists.
Some others will
simply disappear
forever, and good
riddance, he thinks,

good riddance.

But then, almost
immediately after
the great cross-off,
he feels another list
coming on, almost
as if the first list
was never touched,
or as if the items on
that list, just before
a line attempted their
total erasure, had
spawned a host
of new angry items
calling out for
immediate teacher
attention. He
feels sick. He calls
in sick so as to have
eight free hours
after which he
might once again
be able to cross off
all the items from
his new to-do list.

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#180: Another “Workable” Solution

class-size

It turns out that the brave colleague
who volunteered to teach five preparations
in order to relieve another colleague of a student
load of 217 did not, after all, have to take on
five preparations. Instead, two of her small
classes were swapped straight across
with two of the other teacher’s giant classes.
These moves in the schedule
gave both teachers a new preparation
on the last teacher work day before
students arrived on campus and
decreased the student load of the teacher
burdened with 217 all the way down to
something like 197! –but only if this teacher
agreed to take on a third preparation up from
the two he started with. And when students
started shifting, as they are wont to do
at the beginning of a school year,
students continued to be added to his
197, bringing his student load back above
the 200 student mark again.

I don’t understand the math.
I don’t have a head for this thing they call
the master schedule. I’m glad to see a teacher’s
load reduced, but I wonder how much better
the number 200 plus is from the number 217.
It’s 17 plus or minus better, sure, but is it any more possible
to teach 200 plus or minus kids to write than it is 217?
And I’m curious about how my other
colleague will do with a large class of kids
who are already extremely disadvantaged
like most of the particular kids taking this
particular course for which she swapped out
her freshmen.

And I think about my own situation,
considerably more humane, but it’s like
splitting hairs in the end. I faced today
a group of 36 students on the first day of
a college credit course called Writing 121.
I faced another group of 36 10th graders
and gave them watercolors. My total number
of students clocks in at about 174 kids.
4 of my 6 classes award college credit.
For all of my classes I must and am sincerely
willing to heed the clarion call of equity and
rigor for all, high expectations and all that.
But there is a disconnect as
wide as the Pacific and as deep as the
Atlantic, an embarrassing little hiccup
in the system between what we purpose to do,
what we are charged to do, and what is actually
possible in a world where a single teacher
is asked to effectively teach (and know well)
anywhere from 174 to 217 teenagers at one time.

 

 

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#179: A “Workable” Solution

Today the English Department
got together to figure out how
to relieve a colleague of a student load of

217.

That’s all I really have to say.
The fact alone is enough.
One of our colleagues
was assigned 217 students.

The obvious solution,
hiring another teacher,
is apparently out of the question.

A school is given so many
positions of full time employment
and it is what it is and for the most part
cannot be changed.

It might be of interest to reveal
how we “solved” the problem:
One heroic individual volunteered
to teach five preparations.

This was a “workable” solution.

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