Monday, September 14, 2015

A Poem of the Week from Mr. X

I am very pleased, this week, to feature the mysterious Mr. X, the Hawk, who writes at Hello, My Name Is.......  I somehow gathered from the lack of information on his site that he wishes to remain incognito, but, as he posts regularly at Poets United, I wanted to feature him. Then he wrote an absolutely heart-stopping poem, and I knew we had to spotlight it. I am so happy he agreed.






         


X wrote this poem, "Back to School", as the fall session began. One fact I have gleaned from his writing is that he is a teacher, one who cares deeply about his students, as you will understand as you read this poem. As many in our community are also caring teachers, I knew this poem would resonate with all of you. Pull your chairs up close, and get ready to be profoundly impacted. X teaches in what sounds like an inner city neighborhood, and we all know how tough life is for children in the inner city.


Back to School

Between me on my knees
demonstrating the "duck and tuck" position
in case we should hear
TORNADO EVACUATION

in the still small voice that crackles out the speaker
of the intercom, like a candy wrapper making love
to a foghorn
which is a misnomer
considering we are to stay where we are

& holding hands
is the only acceptable form of PDA

sits an empty desk that contains all the things I should say
but the state dictates I don't

like when you choose to fuck someone on the tile floor
of the hall in building one, halfway from History to French,
after crawling through the window you left half latched

do it for the right reason

not for love,
because love never settles for second best
or the paths a thousand feet walked just hours earlier,

And when your mom asks you to sell yourself for $20
giving blowjobs on the bus, tell her
"Get your ass off the couch & find your own job"

These things are never on the syllabus,
don't fit English or Science, and would definitely be Social Studies
if that were not a bunch of dead guys that already tried
leaving behind Declarations and blueprints for a nation
that has raised more bastard children
than flags to half mast

Where is the math that explains that when you are drunk,
if you swan dive off the back of your pick up truck
into three feet of water it will break your neck,

Drowning is a violent surrender you can see the surface of
but not touch, there is no art in the blue blanket
they wrap your body
& all the water running out
is an evacuation, there is no misnomer
I am tired of burying children

not from AK-47s in lands we invade to bring freedom,
but because of what we never taught them,

Jesus spoke of leaving the flock to find the one lamb,
but there are places I can not follow
this empty desk,
belonged to a boy,
he played basketball,
sat in the second row of my geometry class,
passed by the skin of his teeth, now cold to the touch,
he made me laugh like the sun was rising backward,
and is now a moment of silence

deeper than the space between stars,
than when his voice turned two years back.
Don't tell me he is in a better place.
There is not here, and I can not hear,
I am deaf to

procedures that keep us safe,
but sacrifice lives.

We can not stay where we are.

Everyone,
take out your notebooks,
it's time to start class.


Sherry: I can see him : "he made me laugh like the sun was rising backward and is now a moment of silence deeper than the space between stars." How wrong it is, and unnatural,  that teachers are not allowed to talk about those empty desks, which would help students process their shock and grief, and learn something from what happened.

I asked X to tell us about how this poem came to him, his thoughts and feelings about the hard lives his students live, what it is like to care so much and to know how heavily the decks are stacked against some of these young people.  This is what he replied:

X: My name is......X. I am a teacher in a public high school, on the East Coast of the States. I am not a huge fan of Common Core, which is not to say that it’s all bad. I borrow ideas for instruction from Common Core websites all the time. I am not a fan of standardized testing, as there are students that show marked growth that cannot reach the “Mastery” level set by the state. Passing standardized tests in order to graduate force schools to make decisions about remediation that affect a student’s ability to learn skills that will be vital to their post-secondary life.

One of the biggest questions teachers get from students each year is, “When will I ever use this?” I think many teachers miss out on vital learning opportunities when they do not present course content in a context that is relevant to a student’s life or their future. In my classroom, I try to incorporate learning about real life and life skills in most lessons. If they have to ask me when they will use this, I am not doing my job.
We are culture creators. Teachers, poets, parents, whatever your occupation or whatever role you happen to exist in currently, you play a part in creating culture. In my opinion, schools are one of the largest culture creating machines. Students have to be there 7-8 hours a day, and they are learning – whether it shows in their academics or not. It is an opportunity to shape lives, and I intend to make the most of it.
Several people that read this poem said it pointed out the dark side of schools. It is just reality. School is a place where some kids come to feel safe. Others take advantage of a system that is broken. Some come to be educated so they can escape their circumstances. You probably remember from high school, it is a time when you make a lot of decisions that can have lasting impact on your life. From sex, to alcohol, to finding yourself – our lives are shaped by the decisions we make.
This summer I lost a student. He was drinking and dove off the back of his truck into the lake. It was only 3 feet deep where he chose to dive. He drowned after breaking his neck. He was the 9th student I have lost in 3 years. It happens – but it doesn’t have to. What good is the fact that he passed Geometry, now? This was an opportunity – missed.
I am tired of burying children.
The only way that will happen is if we change the culture.

Sherry: So devastatingly sad. Yes, the North American culture has run everything off into the ditch. It needs to change, and quickly.

It is terribly sad that the things that matter most - life skills, survival, the promise that life can be so much better than it is right now - are not on the syllabus. I'm glad you incorporate them into your teaching.

Bless you, Mr. X, for being real,  a teacher who cares, who models in the way you walk your talk  that it is possible to be good human beings, to rise above hardship, and to create meaningful lives. You are one of my heroes. You are in the trenches every day, shining your steady light on the way up and out. I applaud you.

Well, my friends, didn't I tell you? Another poet on his pilgrimage, radiating help and hope. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!



60 comments:

  1. Hey Sherry,

    Thanks for the invite to share. I feel bad I missed the Pantry yesterday - I was quite busy this weekend, which has even spilled over into my Monday.

    Working with youth is my passion, teaching just happens to be my profession you know. The teen years were the hardest in my own life - and if I can help them avoid the same pitfalls, I am all for it.

    I will be in and around and respond to any comments or questions. Hope everyone is having a great day!

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  2. Gosh, HOT. He reminds me of Brian. Which is good.

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    1. Thank you Susan . What have we to write but what life gives us?

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    2. Susan, I have thought the same often when I read X's work.

      X you are amazing and thank you!

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    3. He is surely better looking.

      Thank you Gail.

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  3. Thank you, Sherry, for featuring X and his poem. He conjures up a whole scene and atmosphere through his words.
    X, I think that we are in a transitional stage as far as education is concerned. We know things are changing but we do not have a clear idea of what we should keep and what we need to invent. Your stories also make me wonder whether we want to prepare and equip kids for jobs or for life; both would be ideal.

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    1. I would agree on the transitional phase. With th we advent of concepts like personalized education for all students I think you will see high school begin to look more like college. The role of the teacher is going to change drastically in the next 10 yeArs but the students will always need that human connection.

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    2. If high school could be more like college, more kids would see the relevance of working hard towards their future. I think that is the most hopeful idea I've heard. High school turned me off so badly I didnt accept a scholarship for higher learning. I had no idea how different college would be, and thus missed an opportunity that might have changed my life.

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    3. I really think it will. There will be a greater emphasis on discovering the students interests and helping them find a track that will help them get there. Starting next year, our state will require students to either take a foreign language or to take a trade class so that they have something they can fall back on. The thought as well is to leverage technology to expose kids to more outside opportunities as well to explore their interests. I am intrigued by it, and studying most things I can get my hands on to get ahead of the wave.

      High school was a bit of a waste for me too Sherry. College really opened my eyes to lots of things.

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    4. Wow, I wish Canada would follow suit. This sounds like a really positive direction to be heading in, and will hopefully produce more employment-ready young people.

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    5. That is the hope. Or at least ready for the rigor or trade school or college.

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    6. Do you know what makes Germany strong in the economy and able to take a lot of migrants in? It is because of their emphasis on trade schools. They recognize that not everyone can go to college or university or work at the office. So exposing kids to trade classes is a good idea, and might even steer them into a journey & learning that is exciting and motivating for them.

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    7. I really think we are doing students a disservice by not thinking for their future. It is not that their future can not change, but if they know what they want to do why not help them reach it instead of putting them all in the same box. I hear you.

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    8. I've thought this for a long time. In America we have looked down on blue collar workers and elevated college degrees. We need electricians, plumbers, carpenters... skilled people and we need to respect them.

      We also need many more teachers like X, who care about the child and not just the rating of the school. Lots of respect to you, X

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    9. We do need skilled laborers. While having white collar jobs are great, someone still has to make and service products. Some of my kids make great money as welders and AC specialists.

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    10. This is an interesting topic of discussion. As students are saddled with these huge debts and cannot get jobs. More and more kids are attending community colleges to learn a trade. I know someone who does hard wood floors and he makes good money, he didn't do well in school, but someone took him under their wing and he takes great pride in his work.

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    11. That is a great story to support what I am saying. We are all created different with unique passions and strengths - we have to figure them out and harness that strengths.

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  4. X, this is really a powerful poem. It definitely rings very true to the way things are today & not particularly easy. I like the idea of teaching real life in your class. And true, if students wonder if they will use something, no one is teaching or learning anything. Sad to lose a student for any reason. Breaks my heart when I read stories such as yours. You said high school was a waste of time for you. I can't say it was a waste for me, but I definitely liked college more. Thanks, Sherry, for featuring X; and thanks X for this powerful poem.

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    1. High school was not as much a waste of time as much as a waste. I did not take advantage of it as I did not see the relevance. And I had other things going on that detracted.

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  5. It was my privilege to give this poem another chance to be read, to spark discussion, and to remind us just how hard life is for our young people today. If it is hard for us to hold onto hope, how much harder it must be for them, especially the ones who also struggle with poverty, broken families and addictions in the family. This is where great teachers like X can really open the horizons for these kids..

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    1. Poverty is a very real issue. It affects in ways you dont really understand until you are having a deal with it. Parents working all hours, kids home unattended. Homework is almost a laughable concept in some cases because it will not get done. I spent time tonight calling parents and letting them know how their kids were doing - or not doing.

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  6. How sad the student died so tragically. High school is probably not challenging enough to keep students interested and focused. Unfortunately, there is too much peer pressure to succumb to self-destructive behaviors. Whose job is it to teach values? Teachers, parents, counselors ~ all can play a role to save these children. Thanks for sharing the poem, X and Sherry, an eye-opener for sure.

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    1. I would say for some it is not challenging. For others it is very hard. It comes down to the student and their individual needs. Where do values come from? I think that it should be a community effort but in many cases it is being taught nowhere.

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  7. So terribly sad when you lose your students like that ~ Such promising lives, now sadly gone ~

    Mr X, you always write with your heart on the page ~ Thank you for sharing with us your passion for teaching & reminding us that: because love never settles for second best ~

    Thanks Sherry for the lovely feature ~

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    1. Love def shouldn't though I wonder at times if it does not often, you know.

      I have lost too many students. I was talking with several teachers about it this weekend. It is like always waiting for the next shoe to drop.

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  8. I used to be a teacher in a pretty rough school, and X's description is all too accurate. There is so much need, seemingly never ending need. May God bless you X and keep the burnout at bay.

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    1. Amen, Mama Zen - when one cares that much, burnout is a very real risk. Do take care, X, because those kids need you - and a thousand more just like you.

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    2. There is always more need.
      I have a group of about 25 students that migrate to my room every morning that I have taught over the years. They come in to hang out, say Hi. They know it is a safe place. I often have some breakfast to share, an ear to hear. They know I wont let them get away with anything too. Ha.

      The kids keep me energized.
      Make me ride a desk and it would kill me.

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  9. Thanks for spotting this, Sherry, and to X for sharing its background. I'm a great admirer of your writing, X, as I'm sure I've made clear by now – and all the more so after reading this. If poetry can't save the world (as I once believed) making poetry may at least bring some relief to those like you who are working to save bits of it. May the message be widely heard!

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    1. I think poetry can raise awareness. I wish it could change the world, and it is good therapy as well for those of us that write it - helping us manage our emotions and feelings.

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  10. great to see you featured friend..
    i think you're a wonderful teacher with a big heart for your students - someone who is willing to listen and love and challenge them..and that is so precious
    the poem made me cry the first time i read it - and again i swallowed hard - too many kids out there that lose their way for whatever reason - we def. have to re-think the school system and make it a more human place again

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    1. I think as we introduce technology we have to make sure we keep the human element. I have taken graduate classes online and there is interaction with the prof but I think that it becomes quite superficial online.

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  11. In this selfie world today what we truly need is human connection. No wonder we lose so many kids every year for nothing. No one was there to light their dark path. Not even their parents let alone teachers. This problem is everywhere. In such context teachers like you are lighthouses X. In every line of the poem one can trace the grave concern of the speaker for the souls lost in dark corners of life. Thank you X.
    Thanks Sherry for featuring this amazing poem and the poet.

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    1. Our world is much more immersed online. That def makes it hard in school because there are so many distractions. We all have to light the darkness you know. It is always looking for ways in.

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  12. a most wise teacher - I'm going to come back a read this slowly - to fully glean the wisdom

    keep writing x

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    1. Thanks monk.
      You have much to teach as well.

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  13. So glad to see you here X - you are the teacher I could have only dreamed of having - then and now - and what we don't know often tells us more than what we do

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    1. I try to be the teacher I dreamed of having you know,
      its the best way to make change - from the inside. One life
      at a time, you know.

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    2. Change is only real from the inside out - yep..I know..sigh!

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  14. I knew this poem would spark some really good discussion. Thank you again, dear Mr. X, for saying yes! And for being you. You do good work in the world, at home, at work and through your poems.

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  15. Mr X you always strike a chord with your excellent poetry. Thanks for caring for those students and giving them a voice :)

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    1. Most def. I run a poetry group here at school and give them voice too. It is a safe zone - so they can be real with their feelings, as long as they don't abuse it. So far they have only cussed during performance in four years, otherwise they are very respectful during our time each month. And it has attracted some kids you would not think about in terms of poetry.

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    2. That is fantastic! Have they seen that amazing video that was featured at dverse last week, of the young woman pouring her pain into her performance poetry? Blew me away.

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    3. Yep. I have done quite a bit of performance poetry at festivals and on stage. It can def get quite intense. Not your typical poetry reading.

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  16. Thank you so much Sherry for featuring Mr X :D this is such a moving discussion!

    I wish I knew a bit more about you because you're now officially my hero! Not only are your poems inspirational.. but your personality as well :D I don't think I have ever come across a teacher who cares so much about his students as you do Mr X. The world needs more people like you! Wishing you loads of happiness and success for the future :D

    Lots of love,
    Sanaa

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    1. Thank you Sanaa. I don't want to be a hero, just a guy that cares - you know. I do love my kids. It hurts at times, cause they are still learning. But it makes every day an adventure.

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  17. I am happy to learn more about you X. I retired last year after 30+ years as a teacher and administrator. When I worked with teachers, I was forever asking them when and how would students use what they are teaching in real life....I asked those same questions 40 some years ago when I was in school and never got a good answer....it is refreshing to find a teacher willing to talk about the tough subjects of life and make learning meaningful in the lives of his students.

    Thanks Sherry for giving us more of a glimpse into Mr. X and his incredible poetry!

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    1. I have been approached about going into administration. I really think it would kill me. I do a lot of work for the administrators already, conferencing students, emergency response and such,, even handling some of the delinquency - but my kids are the ones that energize me.

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  18. Your work is always a wow for me X--makes me feel, and feel, and feel--I think that is what poetry is about--Thank you!!!

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    1. I agree, poetry is feeling - even when we are just capturing a scene, there is an underlying feeling to it. Part of the magic is being able to get someone to read it off a page and feel the same thing. Not always easy, but fun to try to accomplish.

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  19. There is such sadness to it all, anytime you dare to care. Mr. X is a gift. His students are the lucky ones. Thank you both!

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    1. Caring is def a risk, because when you care (or love) you are risking them not loving you back. Its like poetry too. You put it out there and people will like it or not. It leaves you with scars but hopefully we can love beyond our scars.

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  20. It is nice to see X featured..he is an amazing poet and his poems come from his heart as they are raw and emotional written from observations in life. I am sure you are an amazing teacher and have made a positive impact on those you have touched. Caring is definitely difficult as it leaves you vulnerable, but you are willing to take the risk.

    Bless you for that my friend...

    Sherry this is another wonderful feature...

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    1. Thank you Tru. I try.
      I think I said it earlier - I write what I am given.
      And so true on the caring - it leaves us open
      for sure.

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  21. Thanks Sherry for another beautiful interview!! Enjoyed reading X's story! :))
    Hank, A quality teacher Is a caring teacher..and a 'culture creator' indeed!! Most teachers care about imparting knowledge to students. But the best teachers also care about the relational aspect of teaching....It's shocking to hear about those premature deaths. sigh!!
    Enjoyed learning more about you, Hank. Love your poems — narratives, the genuineness, the gentleness, the spirituality. Oh, am also a great fan of your poetry!

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    1. It is the relationships that you build that pave the way to learning. Without them, there is little reason for kids to learn. I have seen kids that should have done done fine in a class, but there was no respect for the teacher - so they nearly failed.

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  22. How inspirational this is...how sad it is that school is not the place to tell the truth and come to grips with life and death which will surely follow us, confront us all our lives. So pleased we have learned a little about you today Mr. X.

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    1. I think the truth is relative at times. Ha. Maybe just subject to the perceptions of where you are. I think some would argue that we do tell truth in school but it is in the form of facts - which can be so sterile, at times. But I hear you. I think relevance is a truth all to itself.

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  23. It's hard to remain anonymous when your heart reveals itself. So nice to see you here.

    Thank you for being such a caring and concientious teacher. Your path is so difficult but how wonderful to know that you exist Mr. X.

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