Teaching – A Poem


Once it was enough,
more than enough, to write in white chalk
letters onto green or black slate boards,
to draw the sentence on that board,
diagramming the subject, verb, object
white chalk dust clings to hand, skirt, eraser, hair. Active
and passive could be explained, illustrated. Students
show each other how, work their examples,
helping or confusing each other, discovering
friendships and enmities, showing off
what they know, shrugging off
what they don’t. And you used to
walk among them, correcting, praising,
chiding, clarifying, and still trying
to wipe off white chalk dust.
Vocabulary, grammar, reading.
Who wrote that? Who said it?
When? Why? Where was he standing,
how did he come there and why did it matter?
Once, that was teaching.

Now, you must become the ringmaster
of a colorful, technical, whizbang circus, with dancing
stars on a dozen screens, with highspeed light shows, loudpeakers,
fireworks, musical extravaganzas –
and please be sure to remember,
remember to record the roll on the computer –
who was absent or late – within the first ten minutes
no matter who may be crying
or broken or running away. And please scroll
through the records which you of course will have entered
in detail after each class. And remember to call the parents back.
Don’t miss the meetings, department-wide
or school-wide, or pep rally planning. And let them
all run out to watch the parade, count them as they go and as they come,
shepherd them, herd them, nip their heels, forget no one. Turn
the circus back on for the last ten minutes of class. They
will skitter away like litters of chipmunks and squirrels,
that is their joy and their task, but you,
you are to rein them back in at all costs,
no matter how naturally, how organically
they burst forth, flowing like floodwaters. Naturally
has nothing to do with it. Send the athletes
out to the field early. Excuse the drama club on Tuesdays. Jazz
musicians will be late every Monday. They must
have done their work on-line, on sites you of course will have
set up beforehand and checked between classes. On time. Please
remember to call the parents back. Update
the records. Document each call. Leave nothing out. You
cannot say “sullen” or “ill-mannered.” Do not say “This
is the smartest kid in the school.” Keep your eye
on the circus, all three rings must be active at all times. Please
choose from the comments provided: “Works below potential” or
“frequently late” or “excellent student.” Measure your words with teaspoons,
screen your thoughts. Teacher evaluations at mid-semester.
Just make sure that they’re prepared,
prepared, well prepared
for the world. Not the chalk-dust and blackboard world, no,
but for the ever-more maniacal firecracker world
that’s coming next. Oh, and
teacher evaluations next week, and
remember to call the parents back.

Oh, and hey,
have fun with it.

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