Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Lesson Plan"

Some teacher friends and I were recently discussing our first year teaching.  How utterly bad we were! Last week I attended a writing conference during which we were told to write an apology poem.  Recalling my earlier conversation with my colleagues, I chose to write an apology to my first English class back in 1997.

I’m always afraid of my first English class showing up on my doorstep.

The most peaceful place I had ever been was on the fourth floor
of the Mullen Library at Catholic University.
My only worry was getting Keats just right
amid the dusty silence of stacks of first editions
and unread dissertations.
Back in 1997 though there was no peace,
just a sea of hormonal 14-year-old boys
quoting South Park with scholarly precision.

I’d forgotten until now how lost I was at the front of that class,
ignorant of the fact that I didn’t need all the answers,
that the perfect lesson plan had nothing to do
with helping kids enjoy Juliet’s strength,
Scrooge’s conversion, or the powerful voices
laying dormant in their teenage pens.

I come from a long line of people who had no time to read,
waitress-matriarchs, unit managers at the General Electric’s gear plant,
fire-fighters who worked two jobs to make ends meet.
My relatives would have been uncomfortable sitting in my first classroom.
My grandfather’s thick Polish frame would have chaffed at the edge
of the tiny desk - he preferred to read on his couch,
biographies of Patton and MacArthur.
His big blue eyes would have rolled at my stupid presentations
on nouns and narrative voice.
My two grandmothers would have left the classroom
the minute I told them they couldn’t smoke.
They’d all be proud I had a job that required a tie.

If I had only realized that my first class, and every class after,
was just a group of people discussing books
and discovering who they were with a pen.

I’d like to tell them I’m sorry - Chris Ritchie, Ben Martin,
Andrew Goodwin, Paul Tortorici, Chris Ferguson,
and the rest of my first class.
I didn’t know how to be 23 and be a real teacher.
I’m sorry I didn’t listen more rather than just try to be smart.

And I’m sorry I didn’t know how to get out of the way.

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