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You teach, Teach: A #TeachingIs Poem

At this time of year I find myself reaching for connection with my teacher colleagues. It is the time when we get the most recognition through Teacher Appreciation Week but also, face the final push. So I offer you this poem, written for a colleague who has had a particularly tough year.

You teach, Teach

When you become a teacher you stop being just a person.
You become action.
You become....
The kids call you Mr.Mrs.Ms./_______.

But always with “Can I? Can we? Will you?”

Hopefully, “What if?”

You teach.
Yes you, Teach.
You ask “What is? What would happen? How do you know?”
You ask, for them, not for you.
You inquire
You are...
You start each year with, “This time…” and
“Maybe” or “I’m going to…”
It begins with
Hope but always
Struggle follows
Strive. Push. Challenge.
Falter. Lift. Arrive. (repeat)
Until outside pushes on the windows. The sky grey. The trees grey. The classroom (hopefully) warm.
As they struggle. And you struggle. Until you begin to see. They are not what they were and you are not the same. The classroom has become a story. The teacher a figure. Like the weather or setting.
The learning is the conflict.
The students, the characters, the protagonists.
You become…
The gift
The student stands across the divide.
It can be breached but not without risk.
The teacher knows, there can be an exchange of energy,
becoming but,
there is a space.
Struggle follows
And so the teacher scoops out some of herself
To fill the space and when the student is touched by what has been offered
there is a spark.
But always there is the offering -- first
The gift
Some days the teacher goes home empty.
The action and the person.
You teach, Teach
You bridge and you are the bridge.
You give and you are the gift.
And sometimes there is nothing left.
So Teach you seek  
family, passions, friends, solidarity, the work, sustenance
You become…
Sometimes the stories have names like,
“My mommy’s in jail. My daddy, is 'sleep.”
“I live with my grandma. I haven’t seen my mom since...”
“My mother/father/brother was taken... by the street, the police, the job. Away”
The research tells the stories with words like incarceration, violence, neglect, poverty
But the teacher’s stories are
need, frustration, anger, loss
Sometimes for students, if there is a home, there is no food, no safety.
There is only not knowing and fear/
So the teacher digs deeper because the distance is farther. They give more.
Perhaps.... too far.
It is not the lesson plans.
It is not the preparation.
It is not the testprep.
It is not the teacher.
It is the distance.
By May you know the end of the story.
Strive. Push. Challenge.
And you have given it all and still you can’t reach as the distance grows.
If you work in a school where there is love, it is…
Ok. Or it will be.
There is the distance and you will keep reaching and we will keep holding your rope
as you reach out
what you can do in the story.
In a school with love, the principal, the anchor
If you are lucky.
If not you may dangle, unsure if you will be
from the distance you have bridged but failed to span.
But know this.
You you are action.
The story is not yours.
You are the story.
The question is not, “Did I…”, but “Could I?”
You are not the answer but the question… “If I could, would I? Did I give all I had?”
Yes Teach, you teach.
You give. You are the gift.
You love. You are love. You are loved.


Marcia Powell commented on May 1, 2016 at 11:21pm:

Thank you, John

John, I appreciate all the heart you share about your teaching.  You push my thinking, inspire me, and remind so much of why kids need teachers.  Thank you.

Randy Verticchio commented on May 4, 2016 at 9:53am:



Thank you, you remind all of us who have been in the classrooms for decades that we plan, we present, we engage, we LOVE, we grow with our students and the journey is worth the effort.



Anne Jolly commented on May 5, 2016 at 5:32pm:


Wow - you are an artist of words as well as canvas, John!  In fact, your words here form a beautiful canvas that calls me to remember who I was as a teacher.  Thank you for that. Beautifully done. 

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