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).

Flower as Metaphor

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I am not a flower

about to bloom, nor

one whose petals have fallen.

 

I am not a flower,

nor is this poem

my prurient confession:

 

I am not a flower

worn like a corsage,

or draped on coffin tops.

 

I am not defined

like a bridal bouquet

for I am not a flower.

 

Flowers are more

than what they are;

I am only what I am.

 

(July 31, 2018)

A Safe Community

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I love to be loved,

as do you— as do

we all. No one wants

to be free: Trekking

off, boldly alone

through mountain forests,

the romantic cliché

tousling one’s hair.

 

I like knowing where I am,

to seem competent

in my children’s eyes,

to be myself inside,

a context provided,

a piece to a puzzle.

 

(July 21, 2018)

the words were why I wrote when young

 

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the words were a way out

between the rigid definitions,

the expectations carved in cant

 

the words slipped along fault

line’s edges; the incongruous fissured

like water through the undefined

 

the words wore meaning there,

bare and taut, shrugging off

all social niceties for love

 

the words were love for the world:

the laughter of the sun rippling

the horizon further each day

 

words were a way to a salvation

from what I was not to become

 

(June 25, 2018)