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Enough

Last year on Valentine’s day, my students were working on three of the stories which are alluded to in T. S. Eliot’s the Wasteland. On the way home that day, I listened to NPR’s reporting of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where seventeen people were killed, and another seventeen injured. Since the Columbine High School, Every time there is another school shooting, I think about the students I teach everyday: the joy, trust, hope, and curiosity they bring with them into the world. As news of another killing happens, I cannot avoid thinking about them bleeding out on the floor of my classroom. I am horrified at the “solutions” offered by our political leaders: arm the teachers, “harden” the schools, conduct live shooter drills as casually as fire drills. Last year, I responded personally, the way I respond to most of what troubles me by writing into the horror. A few weeks later Shantih Journal ( https://shantihjournal.org/issue-2-2/) put out a call for writing about social justice after the March for Our Lives protest in Washington. I sent them the poem I wrote the day of the shootings, which they graciously published. I would like to think that there has been a change in people’s political will to do something that will end the slaughter of our children, but I fear we are too mired in sclerotic thinking to change. Here is the poem I wrote:

Today’s Lesson

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

                                    –T. S. Eliot

my students work over the abstract

idea of redemption in three stories

as a preparation for the wasteland

which we will read for the next class

one thousand miles away students

hide as their classmates are killed

and we are told there is nothing

nothing we can do except pray

prayers are useless balms for the dead

and pale recompense for the living

who must clean blood from the walls

and mix memory into the earth

devoid of hope near an open door

we are in a hell we have created

(February 14, 2018)

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The Taming Power of the Small

from “Change,” a work in progress

Our government horrifies me,

and I feel powerless–

Each day I read and talk

with my students;

they exude such optimism

and hope, I’m humbled.

A slight breeze stirs

the oak leaves;

dawn breaks slowly

over all.

(January 25, 2019)

Too Many Conversations to Slough Off

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After the teacher conference

spent listening to others

speak of techniques

to hold their students

locked around an idea

of reading and writing

with little actual reading

or writing of consequence,

 

I am reminded of a Greek

statue of a wrestler,

who stands silent

scraping sweat and

filth from his arm,

his day done.

 

(November 11, 2018)

Ballistics

volleyball-serving

The young girl thinks

constantly of the proper

manner to serve

a volleyball true.

 

The smack-smack

of leather against

the polished wood floor

dominates and supersedes

 

the hard-lined proofs

of geometry; the arc

and vector, with

the slightest bump,

 

returns her to the game’s

concrete abstractions.

 

(September 19, 2018)

My 30th Year of Teaching

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(part one)

I never wanted to be a teacher. Yet, I am about to start my 30thyear teaching in public schools in Texas. I have worked in four middle schools and three high schools, taught 7ththrough 12thgrade, taught newspaper, yearbook, English 7th-12thgrade, pre-AP English (8th-10th), Gifted and Talented middle school English, Advanced Placement Language and Composition, Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, Dual Credit English through Austin Community College, and The University of Texas at Austin. I even taught a German class for a semester. This year I will be teaching four sections of Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, and for the first time a creative writing class, as well as a film studies class, also for the first time. With an average of 150 students a year, I will have had contact with 4,500 students in my classrooms. My first students, 7thgraders in Beeville, Texas are turning 43 years old this year. It is possible that their 13-year-old children could have been in my class at one point in the last decade.

Over time I have come to like teaching, although every year I think about quitting and doing something else, but am never sure what it would be that I could do.  Every few years for the last 30, I start to think I am pretty good at what I do, then something happens to make me realize that perhaps I am not as good as I think. Teaching is a humbling profession.

As a high school student I would have scoffed at the idea of becoming a teacher. The last thing I wanted was to return to school after graduating. Now I feel at home the most when I am in a classroom, either as a student or as a teacher. I left high school to become a journalist, but a professors advice to find the victim’s mother to get a good quote, drove me that same day to change my major to English. I like to write, although my first English advisor told me cynically and accurately, “One does not necessarily learn to write in English.”

Right out of college I worked as a baker at a local bakery in Austin, Texas French Bread. It was only for a few years that I worked there, but it still holds some of my fondest memories. One morning  (4am) on the way to work, as I waited on the stop light to change, I thought I should do something with my English degree. When my shift ended at noon, I walked over to UT and found out what I needed to do to become certified to teach in Texas.  A bit more than thirty years later, that quick, almost whimsical decision at a stop light led me to where I am now, teaching at an all girl public high school in Austin, Texas— and my life’s work.

 

(My plan is to write about my life as a teacher over the course of this school year. Topics will be determined pretty much in the same manner I decided to teach—through chance and whimsy).