Tag Archives: students

When You Leave

for the Charles S. Pierce Middle School Aquarius Class of 2014

When you leave these halls
that have echoed with your laughter,
your shouts, your whispered conversations,
you will take a piece of me with you.
You will always be a part of me.
It has always been so.

The piece of me you take
will differ for each of you,
much as you are different,
one from the other.
I hope that piece contains
what is best of me, though,
I know the other is there.
This, too, has always been so.

I have lost my patience,
lost my temper,
wrung my hands in despair
as I watched you make the mistakes
that you must make
in order to own your own future.

But the lost temper and wringing hands
helped tell the whole story:
that I cared about you,
worried about you,
loved you.

The lot of a teacher
includes loss.
We know you will leave.
It is our main goal:
to prepare you to go.

But we–
always wonder,
how are you?
How is this life
I tried to help shape
for the better
(Are you reading?)

When you leave,
you will take a piece of me.
But equally important:
you will always be a part of me.
A story you told,
a book you lost yourself in
will bubble to the surface
with the sound of your voice,
the shape of your face,
and I will smile to remember.

Though you leave,
I am never gone.
When you can’t
tell your parents,
when your teachers
will not understand,
when your friends
are no consolation,
I am here.

I will listen to you
as you talk.
I will bring you back
to the beauty
that is you.
(You are beautiful.)

I will ask you
what you are reading.

I will recommend
a good book.

I will remind you:

When you leave,
I will still be here.


A heart big enough

Dear Jordan, Shoilee, Shane, Colin, Peyton, Francesca, Caroline, Cameron, Cameron, Cate, Sean, Nirvana, Andrew, Geoff, Domenic, Miwa, Emmett, Al, Chris, Shannon, Bridget, Victoria, Bryce, Isaac, Joe, Serenity, Faith, Alex, Caroline, Isabella, Crea, Sawyer, Hannah, April, John, Brigid, Bergelin, Timothy, Ellie, Mary, Dylan, Knile, Austin, Isabelle, Hue-Ninh, Kaleigh, Thuy-Anh, Isaac, Madelyne, Arielle, Grace, Aidan, Annie, Akil, Annabelle, Jenna, Joey, Francoise, Billy, Nolan, Chidi, Jonathan, Jack, Courtney, Richie, Kayla, Dan, Serena, Victoria, Megan, Eli, Ashley, Jamie, Sarah, Andrew, Isabelle, Josh, Emmet, Mitchell, Julie, Colleen, Kelly, Colleen, Eoin, Isobel, Amanda, Nick, Olivia, Grady, Seanna, Andrew, Leila, Martine, Ron, Daydania, D’laijha, Allie, Kathiana, Danielle, Cassidy, Matt, Josh, Alex, and Danielle,

Your letters
will wallpaper
my heart

Love. Always.

P.S. Sawyer, I mean this most without wax(ly).
P.P.S. Leila–yes. I will promise that, too.

On the shoulders of giants

Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” and I can relate. Teaching is an odd profession. Much of what we do is solitary: the planning, the grading, the getting ready for classes. Another large part of what we do is with an audience much younger than ourselves (at least, after some of us get past the just-graduated-from-college-and-am-teaching-Seniors phase, which I’m glad I missed). And a chunk of our time–the smallest–is spent collaborating with other educators. And yet, ask just about any teacher and s/he will tell you that another teacher, or even more likely, many other teachers, have been tremendous influences. This is no less true for me.

If I’m being honest about all of the shoulders I stand on, I have to go back to elementary school. Mrs. Levering (4th grade English) and Mrs. McAllister (5th grade English) helped support my love of reading and the English language. Mr. Herring (7th grade social studies) and Mrs. Thomas (8th grade social studies) taught me a love of history, but also that teachers were people, too. Mr. Vice (high school history, twice, for which I will ever be thankful) taught me that, not only were teachers people, but they could feel very deeply about many things, and it was that variety that helped them be stronger in the classroom.

Finally, Mrs. Staples, my high school chorus teacher, taught me the tough lesson that sometimes, it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how worthy you are; if there is someone out there who is better, then they’re going to get the part. If you want it, you have to work for it. And even then, it’s not guaranteed. She also helped reinforce the lessons that Mr. Vice instilled, about teachers being human, and needing wide-ranging interests and things about which they are passionate.

The teachers that I have worked with as colleagues have been numerous. In twenty-one years, at three different schools, you meet a lot of teachers. There are too many to name here, but in each place, there are teachers (and administrators) who gave generously of their time, knowledge, and compassion. Without them, I would in no way have been the teacher I turned out to be.

If there is a single “entity” that influenced my teaching, though, it would have to be Janet Allen and “The Geese.” I had the honor, pleasure, and joy of working with this committed group of educators for over twelve years, first in Janet’s “It’s Never Too Late” Literacy Institutes, and then as a writer for the reading program “Plugged into Reading.” They remain some of my closest friends today, and they are the teachers who stand on my mental pedestals when I think of who I wanted to be most like. Janet’s compassion, humor, and love of all things literacy (and her love of us) shaped me more profoundly than maybe anything else in my life, other than my parents/family, and she gathered together a group of men and women who forced me to think, question, and constantly challenge myself. I would have been a paltry teacher indeed without them. Actually, I would have been a paltry human without them. Their influence extends far beyond the classroom.

But I can’t forget my students. I have taught middle school for my whole career, primarily eighth grade. And even on the days that I didn’t like them very much, the love that I have felt for these beautiful human beings, these vessels of promise (and, let’s be honest, for a lot of them, body odor) has made me a better person. Children mirror what we show them, and my students taught me very early on that I wanted to like what I saw in that mirror. Because they trusted me, I was compelled to be a better person. They have never failed to reflect back the love I felt for them, which has been perhaps the best lesson I learned as a teacher. Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. Gandhi said it, and my students helped me to understand it, and hopefully, in some small measure, try to live it.

I have indeed stood on the shoulders of giants. And no one knows better than I that my life, both inside and outside of the classroom, has been the better for it.