Well, thinking about poetry and teaching again, I looked at my class rosters and I realize that I have a couple of students who take a lot of my courses. One girl that I taught in seventh grade and again last year in American Literature is taking both of my senior electives next year and is one of those anxious students who never feels her work is good or her ideas have merit.
Last year she wrote a really amazing essay and I emailed her tutor (a former colleague of mine) because it was so well developed. I’m ashamed to say I thought she had help with the essay. But no. It was hers. After her tutor explained to me what process they had used to work on the essay, she told me that the young writer remembered a time in seventh grade I had said that she was a good writer, so for me she was. This is not to say that the essay was flawless, but it showed growth and depth and real connection to the book we were reading.
So as I approach the beginning of the year, I have to remind myself two things:
- The last students that I taught were at the end of their year. This year’s juniors will be at the beginning of that hard but important year. This year’s journalists will be new to this. This year’s yearbook staff has FRESHMEN! These seniors are worried.
- Dale Carnegie said, “Give a man a good name and he will live up to it.” We all want others to like our work (even I am not immune), and it is our job as teachers to see the scholar and writer and nascent adult in our students.
So another poem comes back to me. No, I don’t think of my students as pigs, but each one needs to flower from within as they are, not as I want them to be. All are beautiful in their own awkwardness; each one will be their own person. They just need to be reminded.
St Francis and the Sow
by Galway Kinnell
stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
And this is the truth of it.