Monday, March 27, 2006

All the Good Intentions

Tonight my friend C. dragged me
to a fundraiser for a worthy
congressional candidate
(who does not, unfortunately, represent my district)

But there were many school system people there--
the important ones who work in the
hulking administrative building
that eats up 59% of the per pupil spending

I spoke with a guy who works for School Stat
(they try to hold the system accountable)
This was my guy!
This guy can explain to me where the
billion dollars go...
"Well, there's a lot of waste,
poor management, and Special Ed."
The usual stuff. But what do we do?

I didn't ask him his annual salary.

He was smart, well-spoken...
all the things I do not expect from
a school system employee

"I made up the funding formula," he said
"we were trying to de-politicize it but we
knew there'd be some issues with schools
like yours. And, your principal makes a
good argument. But if we gave it to you--
we'd have to give it to everyone."

Another woman spoke to me.
She used to teach in Boston
now she works on new initiatives for
the K-12 schools in the office of
"I love being in urban education," she chortled
"not like those county people.
I could never work with them.
You know what I mean."

No. I don't.
Kids everywhere need an excellent education
and I've yet to be convinced
that another administrative position
is the best thing for urban education.

It seems an ocean of distance between
your desk and my classroom.

All these good people
standing around
this good candidate
I admire
talking about their good work
in this city and these good
seem hardly enough
hardly enough
good intention--
to make the change
we need.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Blessings

These hard days

I feel like a crazy lady in the classroom
fussing and squawking
giving up on the
kinder interventions
while afternoons spent in
meeting after meeting after meeting
working to fight for our school
with no reponse
again and again

the school system CEO won't answer
the school board won't answer
the mayor won't answer

the silence

and then the state superintendent comes
loving everything she sees
and someone enraged
has the ear of the governor

a little school
in a forgotten neighborhood
reluctantly playing politics
just wanting a better place
for kids

It is the blessings,
always the blessings
which carry us
to the next day

Monday, March 20, 2006

Missing our Grandfathers

Jazzey shared a tribute
to her grandfather
the day after
his funeral

we listened and
we remembered
our own grandfathers

leaving hearts
with loose holes
like a knit poncho

the dead
the absent
the never known

to all those grandfathers
not in our lives--

we may hardly know you
but we love you
just the same

Thursday, March 16, 2006


today after THE TEST
my own nerves frayed
from glancing over the
huddled shoulders
of my eleven-year-old warriors
I gave 'free time'
so they could play Boggle
and color the Bratz pages
Yasmin brought into school...
we made copies for everyone

Briana said,
"Can I just read my book?"

She's obsessed with the
Cirque du Freak series--
which she was not permitted to read
if she finished a section of the THE TEST early
because regulations stipulate

but once the booklets
have been locked and secure
and we can get back to the business
of real reading

when the only questions
are your own

we can stretch out
across the floor
because there isn't a test
that can measure
us reading under desks
and bed covers
and falling in love with
a story

Yes Briana,
read your book--
you've passed with flying colors

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


This is the moment.

Four months shy
of the end of the year
after months of demonstrating
squishing every state standard
into a palatable pill
we can swallow

it all comes down to this week

This is our judgment,
both student and teacher,
This is where they must pass
to move on a grade
This is my public record
a school's badge of honor--
or shame.

THE TEST will not forgive
your headache
a grandfather's funeral
the welt on your back
that wouldn't let you concentrate
or your anxious butterfly-hands
as you shade

It doesn't give extra credit
for perseverance
or that your reading has improved
by two grade levels--
if you're not at grade level

As we head into battle every morning
I tell my class how smart they are--
they have everything they need
in their brains.
I bring in granola bars
and juice boxes
for sustenance,
we sing songs and dance,
our spirits soaring.

Then I pass out sharp pencils
study their creased faces
rub their backs when they seem overwhelmed

It all falls on this moment.

May we come out

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Why I'm a Teacher

because today at the bottom of a letter
Jazzey wrote
PS xoxoxo

because Lawanda needed help
in the bathroom
when, for the first time
she got her

because at the end of the day
my worldly wise class
had questions,

if you wear a tampon are you still a virgin?
what are hormones?
can two women make a baby?

I trust my mom and you to tell me about this stuff
Myesha confides

because having dinner with my mentee,
once my fourth grader
now turned fifteen,
listening to her
complicated world--

a dead brother
a too old boyfriend
a neighborhood leaving her
anxious and scared

I can still see her
ten year old
little-girl heart
her same smile
her vibrance

These slippery moments
build up a wall of hope
bombs it to rubble--
day after day


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Morning Poem

Walking into school today
I was greeted by
Lawanna, Lawanda, and Chanel
at the door, saying:
I need to talk to you!
I need to talk to you!

With barely a few sips of coffee
I tried to piece together
the newest installment of
our classroom soap opera
which had all taken place
since I left them
fourteen hours earlier.


and on and on and on

By the time I get upstairs to my classroom
I've sifted through stories
to grab at a film of truth
and start planning damage control
so this is not the theme of our day.

But it's Yasmin who helps us start
with a measure of sanity.
"Can't we do like in Sahara Special and throw
our troubles in your basket before we get in the room?"

So I stand at the door with my dollar-store basket
while my boy-crazy, friendship searching, think-they're-so-tough girls
shake out their book bags
reach deep in their coat sleeves
flap out their shoes
as all those troubles
tumble down.

I catch them.
Put them high on a shelf.

Good morning.

Let the day begin.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"Nothing Ever Changes"

Lawanna said in our meeting
with principal, social worker, mom, me...

"I keep getting in trouble
and writing letters to my mom.
It doesn't change anything."

"That's because you're the one
who's supposed to change,"
we adults said together.

She paused,
I wanted to
sit in her skin
get in her brain
figure out how it must feel
to try and try
but everything stays the same
getting in trouble for the same stuff
acting the same way
day after day.

the same, the same, the same

Walking by the same boarded up houses
hearing the same stories of brothers shot
the same troubles following
like a puppy dog

Here you sit, twelve years old
the whole world dim.

We rally behind you--

you do have power
your quick tongue
your strong will,
might just be what
throws off your troubles and
leads you to


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Shout Your Story to the World

Bria is cute.

She turns her uniform all glamour
with a heel on her black buckle shoes
and an array of purses
each holding the treasures of 5th grade:
lip gloss, mirror, lotion.

Bria is mean.

She is the director
of every classroom drama.
She'll be your best friend one minute
and turn on you the next.
She always wins in girl world.

Bria has power.

And she has figured out that
the secret of school is
that no one can make you learn.
The state can compel attendance
but they can not crack open your brain,
line up multiplication facts and vowel sounds
and the five sentence paragraph,
like stocking a winter pantry,
zip you up and send you home.

You get to choose.

So yesterday
when Bria wrote for a full half-hour,
scribbled out a page of words,
and wildly waved her hand to share
I let her read and then went
praise crazy

Look at this word! What a great word!
And this line here...this really moved me
and good writing makes the reader feel things.

She was beaming.

"I'm a writer!" she exclaimed,
"Read my story!" and she'd push her
notebook into the hands of whoever might
be nearby.

Sometimes I wish there was a magic spell
to make Bria want to learn--
but it's even better
when it happens
for real.