Tag Archives: teaching poem

#341: You Do What You Need To Do


You do what you need to do.
If you want to hang a banner over an overpass,
you go ahead and do that.
If you want to stop by the union office
and write a letter to your representative,
you do that.
If you need to go downtown to be
inside of a crowd of people who cheer things
and hold up signs that say things, you go.
If you want to hang out at a transit center
and greet people getting off and on the train,
answering questions they may have about
why their children aren’t in school and
why their children’s teachers are hanging out
in transit centers, you go ahead and do that.
If you are an English teacher, and the most
needful thing for you is to have an extra eight hours
to grade all those fucking papers, you, do you.
If sleeping an extra hour is your protest, go ahead, sleep.
If you need to drive to a retreat center to check out a venue
you have booked for October to bring educators
together so they can figure out how they can stay
in the profession, you do that.
Maybe you want to write a poem or an essay
about what it’s like to be a public school teacher
in 21st century America. You do that.
And maybe you need to sit on a meditation cushion
for an hour instead of your daily fifteen minutes
in order to breathe more deeply than you usually do,
breathing out everything that makes the gig suck,
breathing in everything that makes the gig the greatest gift,
you go ahead. Myself, not a banner guy or a cheer guy
or a press the flesh kind of guy, I still may do a number
of the above things on May the 8th.
I vow to do at least three of the above things on May the 8th
and you can do as many or as few of them as you desire.
You do what you need to do.
And maybe it goes without saying: do something.
Please, do something.


Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching

#288: Classes I Could Teach


I’ve been a school teacher
for a very long time but I never
did get to teach the classes
I think students really need.
Here’s a short list of my best
work, potentially, as an educator:

Be Really Quiet 101

How Not to Be an Ass

Favorite Words for Beginners

Advanced Favorite Words

Poems for Patients Who Chew Gum

What’s Wrong With Boys?

How to Love Your Mind

Where Food Belongs, and It’s Not Where You Think

Should You Write On This?

Things in This Room That Don’t Belong to You

Love, Kindness, and Respect:
Why You Don’t Have Any, How You Might Give It Or Get Some More Often

Is This Garbage, Paper Recycling, Or Bottle Recycling, and as Such, Where Does it Go?

Bottle Flipping Is A Stupid Past Time

Advanced Unlearning

How To Tell The Difference Between a Charging Input and the Headphone Jack on the Chromebook

Underrated Happiness for Beginners

Advanced Underrated Happiness

Listening is a Good Thing 101

You’re Not As Stupid As You Think

Music Appreciation

The Semi-colon is Neat, and Other Favorite Punctuation Pieces, Such As: Dangerous Tricks with Dashes and Interrobangs

Shut Up and Read Your Book, a Book, Any Book

How Your Stupid Smart Phone Is Killing You

Awareness: A Thing You Too Could Have











Filed under Poetry, Teaching

#222: Why I Am Happy


Poet and teacher of mine from a long way back, Peter Sears, taught me about a thing called poetry by corruption, whereby you, the writer, take a poem that you like and just simply and with impunity steal things from it, or, steal it wholesale except for some words or phrases you’ve blanked out from the original and then replaced with your own stuff. It’s only legal because it’s a good exercise to teach us about the choices poets make and it’s a way to pay homage and attention to a poem we love. The only rule: don’t try this at home unless you’re willing to give credit to the original poem. The following is a corruption of one of my favorites by William Stafford.

Why I Am Happy

(from William Stafford)

Now has come, an easy time, I am done
grading sophomore essays, and there is
a lake somewhere so blue and so far
no more student work can find me.
A wind comes, saying, you’re not there yet.

In a few more days will come student
notebooks and portfolios and senior
final exams into my attention. For now,
a lull, unusual, like the one
I hear every summer, when I, too,
laugh and cry for every turn of the world.

Grading goes on and on
but that lake goes on and on even farther;

and I know where it is.

1 Comment

Filed under Poetry

#103: Third Time’s The Charm (A Self-Spell for Teacher)

Today, on this third day of National Poetry Month, we are encouraged, if we need encouragement (and tonight at 7:45 after a 12 hour work day I DO need the encouragement), to write a CHARM poem. All right. And just in case you thought me incapable of rhyme:

A Self-Spell For Teacher

After twenty-five years of teaching,
after all the conferences, meetings, and movements,
after thousands of attempts at reaching
a thousand different types of students,
let there be in my last five years in the game
a sense that I have figured it out;
that my philosophy and my practice are one and the same
and of my efficacy I no longer have doubt.



Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Teaching

#73: Unstuck In Time (Don’t Know Much About History)


The student reading a William Stafford
poem mistakes the 1930’s for
The Civil War in America—when, you know,
there were electric elevators.
The first impulse, if only
inside of a thought bubble, is to make fun,
but the second, more reflective response
is a deep sadness. The kid is unstuck in time
and unstuck in culture,
has no idea when the Civil War took place,
probably believes the elevator man in Stafford’s poem
was a slave, and countless other pieces
missing altogether, the result of more
days of school missed than attended,
and the ones attended, for her, ill suited,
and who knows what else in her life
and the lives of her family prevented
her from learning the most basic
fundamentals of American history.
I don’t hold it against her.
Instead, I am angry about the circumstances
that lead to this kind of ignorance,
feel that she has been cheated in some
significant and grievous way
against which I am totally ill prepared
and unsupported to do meaningful battle in her defense.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching

#43: The Summertime Blues Is A Real Thing


The Summer Time Blues Is A Real Thing

I’m here to tell you that
the Summertime Blues is a real thing.
And I’m not talking about the silly song
about the kid who couldn’t work late or can’t use
the damn car and is too young to vote,
no, I’m talking about the summertime blues
that hits you, the middle aged teacher,
every summer, sooner and sooner every year,
and you have to hit it back, beat it away with a stick.
It’s easy enough to predict and diagnose,
difficult but not impossible (as the song suggests)
to cure, but nevertheless a mighty struggle.
For nine months out of the year
your middle name is Busy and there is
never enough time in the day–
then comes June and suddenly you’ve got
nothing but time–and you understand
why teachers work summer jobs and it’s
rarely if ever about the money, but about the
danger of nothing but time, unstructured time.
And if money was no object, it would be easy to
structure all of that time so as to guarantee
never a dull summer moment.  But money
IS actually an object, and unstructured
time abounds, and you think it is a great gift horse
–until it bites you in the nose or kicks you
in the ass.

You now have an abundance of time
to obsess about your short-comings,
both material and mental, oodles of hours
over which you can feel bad about
not doing the things you should or want
but instead whiling away bucket loads
of opportunity with Mad Men or
The Walking Dead, years of missed episodes,
one more summer you hope to
but will inevitably fail to read Moby Dick,
do creative work, learn a trade,
build a needed thing, fix a broken thing,
repair what was neglected during the
nine months you taught while possessed
and driven by your noble purpose
and 200 plus individuals who expected you
to make things happen every day.

So what will you do?
I have a suggestion or two:
Give yourself permission to do nothing.
But don’t do too much nothing.
Try to balance the hours of nothing
with an even or better than even amount
of something–even if it’s ridiculous.
Be okay spending hours hitting a
badminton birdy back and forth
in the lawn with your boy, not
bothering to actually compete,
only counting the hits back and forth,
over and over again.
Go ahead, try to read Moby Dick  and
be all right with the fact that you’ll
most likely not make it all the way through.
Read a book written by a friend
or recommended by a friend.
Put aside your dreams of a new Airstream
and buy a tent, for Christ’s sake, and go out
somewhere and camp under a super moon.
Listen to music, play music if you can,
and try to love somebody better.

Yeah, the summertime blues is a real thing,
but it doesn’t have to kill you–not this time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Self Reflection, Teaching, Writing and Reading

#37: On Failure


I wrote these short little pieces from various failure perspectives.  There’s such an intriguing and wide variety of ways to fail.  Maybe we gain a little bit of insight by reaching into these mindsets–even for a moment–provided we’re not cynical or simply poking fun.  There’s nothing funny about it.  Each represents an underlying problem that needs solving–if there was ever the will and/or the means for a solution.

On Failure

I can’t read
and I can barely
write a sentence.
but I’ve been passed
along from grade to grade
and here I am
in high school failing
every single class.

This is just stupid
and I can’t be bothered.
Yeah, my skills may be low
but perhaps not nearly as low
as my interest in everything
except gaming.
Not to mention my family
life is shit and I hate my parents
and I stay up every night until 3 a.m.
playing world of warcraft.

I like good grades
but I don’t care much for learning.
Just tell me what I have to do
and I’ll do it, expending
the very least amount of energy
it takes to get the A.
Potential schmential.
If it doesn’t show up
on a transcript somewhere,
I’m not interested.

I don’t know what these tests
are measuring but it must not be
what my teachers are teaching.
How can I do so poorly
on a standardized test
and pass my classes, and
why does my friend do so
well on these stupid tests
and fail his? Somebody has
it all wrong; that’s all I know.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Poetry