Archives for posts with tag: teachers

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Writing the Sky
by Mary Langer Thompson

Zebra Learners, touch your nose
if you practiced your letters.

How do I make a little b?

First you make your…

Ball?

No. The bat.
First you make the bat.
Start at the top and go down.
Watch me write in the air.

Oh, good. I’ll hit the ball with my bat.

Everyone, take out your hands.
Max, I need to see your hands.

Say the letter.

b.

Say the letter. Use big arm movements.

Now m.
m goes all the way to the ground.
Take your time. Good job.
You know what? It’s okay.
’cause I’m here to help.
Let’s rescue the sinking letters.

Look, we’re making the mountains meet.

Like when we made the v’s touch.

Teacher, can you walk on air?

When I’m with you, I do.

PHOTO: Kindergarten class by Wee Dezign, used by permission. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was inspired by an actual teacher and lesson I observed several years ago. The kindergarten teacher really cared for her students, as do so many of the hero teachers who are teaching virtually, a new challenge. I know that teachers like the one in the poem will be just fine because they really care about children.

ADDITIONAL NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My mother, former teacher June Langer (shown on the left), painted this schoolhouse. She did not start painting until her 80s and is now in her 90s and still painting and writing. She is a member of the “Wise Women” critique group of the High Desert California Writers Club and believes it’s never too late to start doing what you really want to do.   

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Langer Thompson is a retired school principal and former English teacher who now writes full time. Her poetry has been published in such journals as Popshot, Snapdragon, and Silver Birch Press. In 2012, she was the Senior Poet Laureate of California. Her collection Poems in Water is available on Amazon.com.

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A Random Saint Rides the Bus
by Joe Cottonwood

With a face of wretched scars like layered pond scum
in the seat beside me she says without prompting 

I teach seventh grade social studies
because I love to bend a mind like molten metal
before it cools hard. Hm. Hm-mum.

She hums one, two notes like commas
as she talks — tuning her thoughts.

My cubs, that age, the hormones hit so hard
you can hear their heartbeats.
Beat-beat, so loud.
Hm. Hm hm.
My cubs, every day they navigate among the flotsam.
Just look at this bus. What they deal with.
And you and me, right? Because
we’re all riding on this bus. Hm-mum.

My cubs don’t know their values.
They may not know their own gender.
It’s a race to develop personal integrity
before the peer group kills them. Hm.
They need somebody who will listen to their heartbeats.
Somebody must say “Yes that’s right”
or “No that’s absolutely wrong”
though mostly what I say is ‘”There’s no absolute here”
but I love those emerging souls and maybe
I help shape them in some small way. Hm. Hm.

You wonder what happened to my face?
One of my cubs threw acid.
One of my lost ones.
Hm hm hm.

A thin gold chain around her neck,
a gold cross upon her chest.

Here’s my stop she says.
Have a great day.

First published in MOON magazine.

PAINTING: “Woman with yellow hat” by Pablo Picasso (1961).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is from my book Random Saints. The cover illustration by Sarah White was inspired by this poem. The teacher featured in this poem is the central figure on the cover.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joe Cottonwood has spent a lifetime repairing other people’s homes and is still repairing his own. He lives with his high school sweetheart in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints.

John Ferone 8

Out for a Drive and Thinking about John Ferone  (1943-2003)
By Alan Walowitz

I got to Millbrook twelve years late,
though the horsey set was still sunning itself in the cafes,
their Lexuses polished to a nub
and tied to the decorative posts at the curb.
John had died before he and I could play some golf,
or watch birds with the Audubons
dragging their fancy Wellies through the mud.
He was plenty well-off already,
but he taught the hell out of those kids even in the summer
and drove a bus each afternoon, and never spent much,
as if the Great Depression he’d learned about as a kid
was right around the next curve on Fisher Avenue.
Fridays the Lotto tickets were stuffed
in the top pocket of his Dacron shirt,
the same one he’d worn, stained and askew,
since he was a pup, and the principal took a chance on him,
despite the way he dressed and his plentiful unpolished ways:
John was born rumpled and called not so smart from the first—-
no one had yet heard him declaim Romeo’s lovesick soliloquies
and make them make sense to thirteen-year-olds
who had plenty of love problems of their own,
or convince the motley kids he taught
why they’d rather tour Sunnyside
than spend and get at the Mickey Ds right off the highway
close in to the old Sleepy Hollow cemetery
where I bet John would have wished to be buried,
though the Babe and Gentleman Jimmy Walker
are now his neighbors up in Hawthorne.
How fitting for an ill-fitting squire from Millbrook.
Still, years later, strangers come up to tell me
he was their perfect teacher.
I know for a fact John had plenty of faults,
but I can’t think of any right now.

This poem appears in the author’s collection The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems (Truth Serum Press).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I was hired to work in the White Plains, New York, schools, one of my new colleagues was John Ferone, a long-time 8th grade English teacher.  John was such a unique person—earthy, erudite, gregarious, very private—and, as I soon discovered,  a memorable English teacher for several generations of White Plains students. Towards the end of my tenure in White Plains, John became ill and passed away.  He was much too young and still had so much teaching left to do, and so many students to affect, in that inimitable Ferone-way. I try to capture a little of John’s specialness in this poem.  It’s also a tribute to his colleagues in White Plains, and teachers everywhere, who truly are prime movers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Though writing poems can be quite lucrative, Alan Walowitz earned the bulk of his fortune as a teacher of secondary English for 34 years, mostly in New York City public schools.  From 1992-2004, he served as the Coordinator of English Language Arts in White Plains, New York, public schools,  He’s also taught at Pace University, St. John’s University, and Manhattanville College. His poems can be found lots of places on the web and off.  He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry, and his poems were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017 and 2018.  His full-length book of poems from Truth Serum Press, The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems, is available on Lulu.com, and other famous online booksellers.  His forthcoming chapbook, In the Muddle of the Night, co-written with poet Betsy Mars, will be published by Arroyo Seco Press some time soon.

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To the classroom pencil amid Covid-19
by Paul Ruth

Somewhere there is a classroom with
a drawer in the teacher’s desk,
or a bin partially filled in front of the class,
or off to the side,
or by the door near the hand-crank pencil sharpener used
only when the electric one burns out,
that contains used pencils.

At the beginning of the year,
they might have been new.
Some were a carryover
from the year before.

Some might have been donated new,
but often they are donated by forgetfulness
on the desks, floors, and in the corners
of a lost thought.
The hexagon with an eraser tip
is the classic shape.
Many are round,
coated with a message or holiday theme.

Yet they all wait quietly
for brainstorming sessions,
math calculations (where you need to show your work), and
historical exposés on why all this matters.
In the right hands it can even be used for a representation in graphite.

If the pen is mightier than the sword
then the classroom pencil is the infantry,
the pawns in a game of chess.
It is the unsung hero given a medal for bravery.
The frontline worker only noticed now.

But it isn’t a fighter.
It is a peaceful rendition
hopefully waiting
for the classroom to fill
for minds to awaken
for hope to spill
over jumpstarting motivation,
passion,
enlightenment.

Has the classroom pencil seen its last days?
I think not!

It would be pulled through a fist
encasing it with a sanitary wipe
while a pandemic rages
and safety fades.
Although, the sticky pencils always seemed to get thrown back in the bin.

Still used to scribble notes
when despite its best efforts,
the computer just can’t quite keep up with our thoughts.

So they wait for the longest break
to end.
They wait to do what they have to do.
To forge ahead
to do what they did
once again
when we will begin again to live in a world
free from dread.

PHOTO: Student with pencils by Sashasan, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wanted to capture not just the person but the experience of the teaching profession during these times. The classroom pencil bin was always something I and others took for granted in the classroom. Now I understand how deeply Covid has impacted our lives, right down to the playful practicality of borrowing a pencil to do schoolwork. In writing this, I thought of all the teachers I have known and all the classrooms I have been in as a teacher and student.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Ruth is a high school English teacher and adjunct college instructor from the Metro Detroit area. He has written opinion articles on the state of education in Michigan and makes his aphorisms available through his Instagram account @envisionedaphorism. He also co-produces the Instagram account @limmieslimericks with his girlfriend with limericks from the perspective of his Old English Sheepdog named Limerick.

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Miss Humphrey
by Leslie Sittner

She was tall, broad, quietly forceful. Mostly intimidating. And, as a 17-year-old, I thought, ancient, uncool, and wore dreadful sensible shoes. Definitely not fashionable. I was a freshman at Cornell in the early1960s in the College of Human Ecology. She was the stern taskmaster of the Textiles and Clothing Department.

But I loved the classes she taught. I learned plenty and performed well.

Junior year she invited me to her home for tea. By myself. Nervous? Absolutely. To my surprise she didn’t seem so very old; she was charming. And funny.

After graduating, moving to New Your City, and beginning my first professional fashion designer job, she invited me to return and lecture on my “design experience” in the Big Apple. She was impressed that I, as a children’s sleepwear designer, had several full page ads in the New York Times featuring my creations. I felt like a successful graduate and creative person!

Apparently the lecture was worthwhile because soon she notified me that she’d be coming to the City to visit me at my job. The company was located in the famous Little Singer (sewing machine!) Building on lower Broadway. It’s a magnificent edifice that enjoys landmark status. Even the elevator was remarkable.

When Miss Humphrey arrived at our fifth floor, she was slightly rattled, slightly disheveled, slightly tongue-tied. It was a Friday, payday, and we hadn’t yet been informed that there’d been an armed robbery in the building. She casually mentioned that the elevator exhibited telltale blood spatter. She matter-of-factly related the lobby-police-elevator experience. Then requested to meet my boss and see my design room. Just like that. And here I thought I was the blasé cool city girl.

Suddenly this tough gracious woman wasn’t ancient or uncool; I cared not a whit that she wasn’t fashionable.

IMAGE: Little Singer Building, 561 Broadway, New York City.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As hip1960’s students, we weren’t necessarily kind when discussing Miss Humphrey the Spinster. It was only hindsight that made us appreciate all she’d had to offer us. Most of us went on to successful careers in some field or another.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leslie Sittner has been turning to the written word as a form of self-expression and reflection. Her stories are available in print in The Apple Tree by Third Age Press, and will be featured in Adirondack Life magazine. On-line prose can be seen at 101Words, 50 Word Challenge, 50 Word Stories as well as many selections of prose and poetry at Silver Birch Press. She has finished a memoir about travels with her ex-husband and hopes a publisher will find it as humorous as she and her writer-friends do.

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One of my favorite songs is “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” a ballad that Bob Dylan composed for Judy Collins in 1964. Collins released a beautiful version as a single in 1965, and the song was subsequently covered by a range of artists — including Nico, Fairport Convention, Marianne Faithfull, and the composer himself. I love the song for its haunting melody and mysterious lyrics that make you ponder about the meaning of the “it” in the title.

I often listen to music via YouTube and a few days ago woke up needing to hear “I’ll Keep It with Mine” more than I needed breakfast or a cup of coffee. During my YouTube search, I noted a “PS22” entry — and wondered how an elementary school chorus would tackle this unusual, somewhat existential song. Yep, the kids nailed it! I was totally blown away. Listen for yourself here.

Apparently, I’m rather late in discovering New York City’s PS22 Chorus (visit the official blog here). Located on Staten Island, the PS22 Chorus has been going strong since 2000 — led by choral director Mr. B. The PS22 Chorus enjoys many high profile fans — including Oprah, Rihanna, Adele, Tori, Tyra, Beyonce, Common, Sinead, Alicia, Katy, Martina, and Kylie. At the 2011 Academy Awards, the PS22 Chorus closed the festivities with a sweet, soulful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Listening to these young people reminds me about the power of art — and how the fine arts are as vital to education as math and science. Thank you, PS22 Chorus!