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).

Teaching

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I’m not sure I do much,

but open doors, set up chairs,

provide a place to read,

talk, write; which is enough

and yet, is not enough

to beat back the belligerence

barking like a spittle-flecked

beast. I can’t save them

from what is to come,

nor always be there to speak

amiably into their distress,

and voiceless traumas.

But there is this room,

an open door, and a chair.

 

(March 27, 2018)

The Library

“What do they know
and feel we do not know?”
William C. Williams, Paterson
I know only this
faint glimmers
of light in a line
an unsourced shape
what I bring
to what I read
what I take away
the book remains
whole
I’m changed
but incomplete
our conversation’s our own
my own your own
each hears a different voice
to a different ear
understanding’s
a vague outline
a blurred picture
of you I carried
but lost years ago
(February 4, 2015)

Always Already Here

memory serves no master outside herself
without control the story heard trembles
and loops like a river bends and shifts
through the soft sand banks which pretend
toward a definition of our edges for years
on end until an eternity is washed away
beneath the redemptive waters scrubbing
the landscape clean under an alluvial flood
where all our traces are erased and the earth
wakes to memory whispering her song anew
as if she spoke into an echo of what should be
already etched through our veins in calligraphic
helixes which bend back to carve primal letters
along  the walls affixing us safely within ourselves

(February 2, 2015)