Thursday, August 18, 2011

Teacher Time


My writing group is called The Guttery and it's aptly named. We really cut and slash. Everyone in the group, myself included, would tell you it takes a thick skin but that in the end, we are all better writers for the process.
Last night I submitted two poems. The feedback went as expected. Both were re-writes and one was much more appealing than the other. I think with a few minor adjustments, my poem for my father-in-law's caregiver, Aster, is ready to meet the world. It's the other one that's problematic.
About six months ago I decided to write something from a teacher's point of view. I wanted it to be something that was both literary and provocative. So I decided to write a sestina. You may know that a sestina is a particular form of poetry that has repeated words or ideas and adheres to a precise rhyme scheme or form. Should have known that wouldn't work for me. Still, I persevered. I took some key words to express key ideas that focus on the assault on public school teachers, the preoccupation with standardized testing, the lack of critical thinking skills in some recommended curriculum, the the corporate attempt to apply a business model to education.
In recent months, after following the discussion centering around the film "Waiting for Superman" and the media's continually getting it wrong, I proceeded. Mindful of the propaganda about charter schools, online schools, and private schools...mindful of what most of the data really says about the meaning and effectiveness of scripted and test driven curriculum, aware that young teachers continue to leave the profession at alarming rates...I proceeded.
Caveat: don't alienate people. Lots of folks will bristle at an air of self-righteousness...they don't understand the teacher's point of view for a myriad of reasons so don't turn them off before you have a chance to win their approval.
That's where I may have failed. Yes, teachers can fail. My piece is angry. Or so my group tells me. My piece makes even the two teachers in the group feel "scathed."
But wait...maybe I succeeded. I don't want to hide my anger. Actually I'd like to see a whole lot more outrage from teachers I know. Like the current criticism of President Obama, I think it's time to get pissed and think carefully about yielding to any more pressure.
I want teachers to find their power and use it. The costs of not doing so, in my view, are too great.
I call my poem Civil War Address because there is a real division in this country now. We do seem to be fighting ourselves and in a civil war, nobody wins. I have elements of Lincoln's Gettysburg address in my poem because I wanted to use the phrase of the teacher, by the teacher, for the teacher. My poem is for and about teachers. I don't think my group got that. They advised me to make it of for and by the student. I've got no problem with that, but this is a poem about teachers. Teachers who need to be very certain of how they feel about all this. Besides, some of the biggest hypocrites in education will always tell you, "I do it for the kids." Guess what, we all do. Time to do something for the teacher.

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