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Learning is the Thing for You

I told students, when I learned something new, I was going home to tell my wife. I unsure they believed me, but, often, I would go home and tell Kathy what I had learned or a particular frustration from the day. Often, the latter led to learning.

T. H. White, in this excerpt from The Once and Future King, suggests learning is a universal solvent for what ails us at any given moment. It distracts us from worrisome, sad, and fearful things focuses on something right here in the present moment. It occupies our minds, fills our bodies, and feeds the soul of our being.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn… “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss you only love, you may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world ways and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured, never fear or distrust, and never dream regretting. Learning is the thing for you.”

I Am a Teacher

A student gave me this poem Thursday. The Alberta Teachers Association published it in their monthly newspaper recently. Susan Holland, a retiring teacher, wrote it. Is there such a thing as a retiring teacher?

The poem encapsulates many of my current feelings and points to the impact we have on children and families. The gesture of giving me the poem is deeply meaningful and I am grateful to receive and share it.

I Am a Teacher

You are my children.

We triumph together when you master cursive.

We struggle through long division.

I wipe away your tears when something bruises you elbow

Or someone bruises your heart.

You read to me—I read to you.

We laugh over silly jokes or stories.

I introduce you to new words—

You refresh me with new perspectives.

I wasn’t there when you were born.

I don’t tuck you in at night …

Or dance at your wedding.

But, you are my children.

And as June draws to a close

I grow melancholy.

You will move on and I will stay behind to start again.

And as the years pass you blend, merge, and mingle—

Warp and weft intertwined into my universal child.

I am a teacher.

You are the fabric of my life.

 

Sanctuary

I am beginning to feel the leaving part. It is hard after almost 15 years in a place that helped me find my voice as a teacher, a learner, and, most importantly, as a person. Here, I watched young people grow and flourish. What I want to try to remember is the Buddhist understanding of departure. We take something with us from each experience and leave something behind. We are never fully gone from where we were or separated from those we were with. There is something indelible left on both sides of the relationship.

One thing that the leaving part has done is given me some words to write. That has been the gift of the last year: I find words in many places and experiences.

A true paradox this space-

Not always quiet–

Still a sanctuary;

In this space–

Refuge emerged.

We co-created

Learned together–

Grew as one,

Remained individuals

Not easy things to do.

Relationships flourished–

Built inseparable bonds.

In this rectangular circle,

Welcomed each others presence

Witnessed each others human essence

Called each others name

Called those names from the heart.

When we leave–

And, we must,

We look at our time together

Look back with reverence

With no regret.

Silver Star

William Stafford wrote this wonderful poem. Today, as I wondered what I should post, I came across it. It is weird in a way, but I am rarely concerned with what people think about me. More accurately, I do not place much emphasis in quantity. I prefer quality in my relationships, people who think of me for the right reasons. They care and their words are true.

People are aware I am leaving the profession. It is to hear words of gratitude from students and their families, including former students. I do not hear the whole world say, “Good job”, but I hear the right part of the world saying it.

To be a mountain you have to climb alone

and accept all that rain and snow. You have to look

far away when evening comes. If a forest

grows, you care; you stand there leaning against

the wind, waiting for someone with faith enough

to ask you to move. Great stones will tumble

against each other and gouge your sides. A storm

will live somewhere in your canyons hoarding its lightning.

If you are lucky, people will give you a dignified

name and bring crowds to admire how sturdy you are,

how long you can hold still for the camera. And some time,

they say, if you last long enough you will hear God;

a voice will roll down from the sky and all your patience

will be rewarded. The whole world will hear it: “Well done.”

Cutting Loose

Only four students attended today. These students struggle with school for various reasons. I think it is because they are cast aside by adults. They want adults in their lives to set boundaries and be real. I asked a student what he had learned after we completed a Math question together. He responded you are always right, meaning me. I made a mistake in my calculations. We laughed. I told another student I did not like Math when I went to school either. When adults lighten up and are genuine they make an impact on children who need help.

William Stafford reminded us to be genuinely human, cut loose, and have fun. Parker Palmer suggested: “Teachers live on the most vulnerable intersection of public and private life.” Yes, we are vulnerable , but children and adolescents smell the disingenuous when we are not authentic.

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path — but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.

Working Together

I read and heard about innovation several times over the the past few days. I was professionally developed yesterday and it came up again. The person indicated innovation is half-formed ideas bumping up against each other as we share them. I wondered about that, because it suggests we work together, collaborate, and recognize the interdependent nature of humans and the world they live in together. I rarely see this and I doubt a bureaucratic mindset is one that embraces those features of innovation. I read recently, and I apologize about a lack of reference, that it is not enough to show up. We need to do something when we get there. David Whyte summarized this beautifully in the following poem.

We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again.
The visible
and the invisible
working together
in common cause,
to produce
the miraculous.
I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
passed at speed
round a shaped wing
easily
holds our weight.
So may we, in this life
trust
to those elements
we have yet to see
or imagine,
and look for the true
shape of our own self
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.

Limericks

I started on the academic work last night. I was productive as I tracked down some books that I have in my library and added to the library with a book order.

Yesterday, we began our poetry unit at school. I enjoy it and I think, for the most part, the students do as well. They grumble a bit, but, when they start writing they are laughing. We wrote limericks. I wander around the room, talk my way through limericks, and write one or two down on the board. It is mostly off the top of my head and they are fairly rough, but the students get a charge out of it and realize not to take it too seriously. I wrote these two on the board and decided to share.

There once was a boy named Earl

He wanted so desperately to be a squirrel.

Allergic to nuts, his dream were dashed.

Distressed he wailed and his teeth he gnashed

That young fellow named Earl.

There once was a boy who loved basketball

Three-pointers were his downfall.

He went to shooting school

There he did rule

Today, he has fame and is in the Hall.

Tomorrow’s Child

I will change my routine week and post less often. I need to work on my dissertation topic. I want to enroll in the proposal seminar in June. If not, it will be next fall. I need to begin to set the table for the next part of life’s journey.

Today, I commented in an online forum about the state of public education. Another commentator asked, “Is there no hope for real change in the schools of America?” I am not American and cannot answer that specific question from where I sit. Instead, I answered, “I do have hope and, more importantly, I have faith that we can make the necessary changes despite the obstacles. What do we want for our children and grandchildren? This seems like the question we need to ask. Does change offer a sustainable future, not for me, but for future generations in an unimaginable, complex, and chaotic world? This need for real, flexible, and sustainable change reminded me of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I found this beautiful poem by Brazilian poet Rubin Alves. He spoke of hope, but not hope as a soft and gentle aspect of life, but hope matched with suffering and resiliency which gives rise change and the hoped. I particularly enjoyed: “So let us plant dates/even though we who plant them will never eat them./We must live by the love of what we will never see.”

What is hope?
It is the pre-sentiment that imagination
is more real and reality is less real than it looks.
It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality
of facts that oppress and repress us
is not the last word.
It is the suspicion that reality is more complex
than the realists want us to believe.
That the frontiers of the possible are not
determined by the limits of the actual;
and in a miraculous and unexplained way
life is opening up creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection –
but the two – suffering and hope
must live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair.
But, hope without suffering creates illusions, naïveté
and drunkenness.
So let us plant dates
even though we who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
That is the secret discipline.
It is the refusal to let our creative act
be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience
and is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints,
the courage to die for the future they envisage.
They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.

Accepting This

When Kathy and I decided I would teach one more year, I wanted to make it the best year possible. I tired last year, was in physical pain, and it was difficult to be there for students as I wanted. I examined my life as Socrates suggested. I realized I focused on things I had little or no control over which is unlike me. I knew I wanted this year to be different and I worked hard the first 1/2 of the year in that respect. I remind myself I can only do what I am capable of doing. I stopped planning and organizing that which is not plannable or organizable and take a breath now and then. I choose to accept my life as it unfolds and as I author it in this moment. I owe this to the students and their families who support them and me.

Mark Nepo reminded me today of this as I read this beautiful poem.

Yes, it is true. I confess,
I have thought great thoughts,
and sung great songs—all of it
rehearsal for the majesty
of being held.

The dream is awakened
when thinking I love you
and life begins
when saying I love you
and joy moves like blood
when embracing others with love.

My efforts now turn
from trying to outrun suffering
to accepting love wherever
I can find it.

Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

Ultimately,
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.

There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
Accepting this,
we can do everything
and go anywhere.

To be of use

Yesterday, I spoke with a frustrated parent. Our little school thrived because parents contributed in meaningful ways to their children’s education. This parent said she was felt like an unpaid employee whose efforts were no longer valued. Now, she could have been just being nice, but she told me she felt welcomed and appreciated in my classroom.

When we ask people, of all ages, to do something they should feel welcomed and worthy of the effort they give. Marge Piercy wrote about this human need to do real work. We find purpose, worth, and identity in our calling. Voice and vocation come from the same etymological roots. We find voice in the work that chooses us. Real work calls us and makes us whole.

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

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