Last week, I described the experience of listening to Dr. Linda Opyr read her poems and talk about the life of a teacher turned writer. This was part of a workshop through the Long Island Writing Project Summer Institute, which I was co-facilitating. We were also joined by the Long Island Writing Project Creative Writing Retreat for Teens. One of Dr. Opyr's poems was entitled, "You Must Tell Them This" which provided inspiration for my poem. I shared this piece with the teachers of the LIWP Summer Institute on our last day together it was my submission it into the publication we created.
You Must Tell Them This
(Inspired by Linda Opyr)
By Kathleen Sokolowski
You must tell them this:
Teaching chose me.
It's broken, expanded, and filled my heart,
and I've learned more than I taught.
You must tell them why I became a teacher-
to be the lantern
lighting the way to literacy and learning
to show students that your choices matter-
your words and actions always count.
You must tell them I always wanted to be better.
Never felt the complacency of “good enough.”
Never thought of teaching as just a job
or a paycheck or 10 months until summers off.
You can’t take a vacation from yourself-
and I am a teacher.
When they speak to you of data points, rigor, and fidelity,
tell them I never saw my students as numbers,
never felt that reading a script from a page
deserved my faithfulness.
Names and stories are what live in my heart.
They can save their Danielson rubrics,
their ranking and rating and sorting.
Assigning me a number and a label
could never inspire a passion or ignite a flame
that wasn’t already burning within me.
When the scores are published
and blaming fingers point at teachers
judging, criticizing, bemoaning,
beseech of them that one number
does not tell the whole story,
cannot sum up a year of living,
breathing, struggling, succeeding,
sharing, listening, laughing,
You must tell them this:
Good teaching has never been about
one measure on one test
on one day.
It's about every day,
bringing the best of yourself
and sharing your failures,
showing students the honorable struggle
to lead a worthy life
not measured by income, grades, trophies,
but by the kindness shown,
by tolerance, acceptance, understanding offered.
By finding your place in this world
and then doing what you can do
to make it better.
Tell them to keep their merit pay.
Tell them to stuff their "highly effectives."
Tell them the little girl who asked Santa Claus
for teacher books and supplies
and played school for fun for years
and dreamed of being a teacher
and worked hard to become one
and is still trying each day to be a better one,
tell them she doesn't need them to define her.
She learns from her students each day.
Her heart has broken, filled and expanded.
Teaching chose her.
And despite them and their efforts to paint her
As inept, greedy, lazy, failing,
she still chooses to teach.
You must tell them this.