Category Archives: Poetic Impulses

Learning in literature.

El niño que no puede leer bien.

Desde el empiezo del año,
he estado trabajando en la lectura con un niño del quinto grado.
——–Yo había pedido para trabajar con un estudiante de habla hispana aprendiendo inglés.

Caminé en su salón de clase por primera vez.
——–Me dio una mirada nerviosa, con sonrisita.
Tenía dos libros de capítulos inglés en su escritorio.
——–The Lightning Thief por Rick Riordan y
——–The Book of Pirates por Howard Pyle.

Nos conocimos, y le pregunté si leyera sus libros conmigo.
Abrió su libro de piratas.
——–Dijo que sus libros favoritos tienen historias de piratas.
Pero cuando empezó a leer, las palabras eran muy difíciles.
——–Él no podía leer más de dos o tres palabras en el primer pagina.

Cuando le evalué en la lectura, estaba a un nivel pre-kinder.
——–Sin embargo, él podía entender las historias cuando leí a él.

La próxima semana, traje algunos libros en español.
Cuando empecé con La Oruga Hambrienta por Eric Carle, me dijo,
——–—Mi papa lee esto a mi hermanita cada noche, pero
——–¡nunca lo ha leído a mí!
Le gustó la historia.
Nos reímos mucho.

Entonces, leímos Leo, el Retoño Tardío por Robert Kraus.
——–Olvidé que es la historia era de un tigre que no podía leer.
Cuando se lo leí, parecía más frágil.
——–Hablábamos solo en español.
Leo, el tigre, era él.
Él es Leo.

Antes del fin, Leo lee.
——–—¡Leo puede leer!
Nos reímos de nuevo.

——–—¡Le veo en dos semanas!


The boy that can’t read well.

Since the start of this year,
I have been working on reading with a fifth grader.
——–I had requested to work with a Spanish-speaking ELL student.

I walked into his classroom for the first time.
——–He gave me a nervous smile.
He had two English chapter books on his desk.
——–The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and
——–The Book of Pirates by Howard Pyle.

We met, and I asked him if he would read his books with me.
He opened his book about pirates.
——–He said that his favorite books have stories about pirates.
But when he started, the words were much too difficult.
——–He could not read more than two or three words on the first page.

When I evaluated him in reading, he was at a pre-kindergarten level.
——–However, he could understand the stories when I read to him.

The next week, I brought some books in Spanish.
When I started La Oruga Hambrienta (The Hungry Caterpillar) by Eric Carle, he told me,
——–“My father reads this to my little sister every night, but
——–——–he has never read it to me!”
He really liked the story.
We laughed a lot.

Then, we read Leo, el Retoño Tardío (Leo, the Late Bloomer) by Robert Kraus.
——–I forgot that this is a story about a tiger that cannot read.
When I read this to him, he seemed more fragile.
——–We talked only in Spanish.
Leo was him.
He is Leo.

Before the end, Leo reads.
——–“¡Leo puede leer!”
—————-(Leo can read!)
We were laughing again.

——–“¡Le veo en dos semanas!”
—————-(See you in two weeks!)

Learning in question.

One of my first grade students got an iPhone for Christmas. Another student sitting at the same table does not always eat every meal each day. How can we expect to be able to teach our kids without a knowledge of the (seemingly simple) barriers to their learning and deep engagement? How can we deeply engage with(in) these contexts in order to facilitate bridges for these/all students? How do we provide equitable access despite these circumstances?

A section of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border at Imperial Beach, California.

El niño que no comió esta mañana.

La semana pasada, un niño me dijo,
—Me duele el estómago.
A él, dije,
—Hay tres razones posibles:
——–Uno, estás enfermo y necesitas ir a la enfermera ahora.
——–Dos, tienes hambre y necesitas comer algo.
——–Tres, estás nervioso o preocupado por algo.
—————-¿Que piensas?
Me dijo,
—Creo que tengo hambre. No comí nada esta mañana.
——–¿Puedo ir a la enfermera? Ella siempre tiene comida en su oficina.

La maestra dice que los niños necesitan desechar lo que no comen en el almuerzo.
Le dijo al niño que puede poner sus restos en su mochila
——–(cuando la maestra no está mirando).

The boy that did not eat this morning.

Last week, a boy told me,
“My stomach hurts.”
I said to him,
“There are three possible reasons:
——–One, you are sick and need to go to the nurse right away.
——–Two, you are hungry and need to eat something.
——–Three, you are nervous or worried about something.
—————-What do you think?”
He told me,
“I think that I am hungry. I did not eat anything this morning.
——–Can I go to the nurse? She always has food in her office.”

The teacher says the kids need to throw away what they don’t eat at lunch.
I tell the boy that he can put his leftovers in his backpack
——–(when the teacher is not looking).

Learning in snapshots.

Often, it is in simple moments and single interactions/exchanges with my students that I confront and confirm (to myself) the importance of the sacred work of public education (and my commitment to it). To explore my core commitments to this critical and challenging project, I am currently writing a collection of (hi)stories from my classroom and student teaching experience. The following is a bilingual story from the section titled, Cuentas de los niños morenos (Stories from/of the brown kids). I am not sure what lessons will emerge from these snapshots, but I do know that collecting them all into a common space forces me to look at and reflect on my classroom and students with a more nuanced vision. Some of the stories (continue to) weigh at my heart, and writing them seems to refresh my spirit a bit.

Little Girl With Yellow Dress
by Patssi Valdez, 1995

La niña que me rompe el corazón.
En mi clase, hay una niña.
Una niña amable y tranquila, que me rompe el corazón.
Ella es de México.
Vino aquí con su mamá, cuando tenía cuatro años.
Una noche,  ella se durmió en México.
Cuando se despertó, no estaba en México más.
——–Cuando se durmió en México, estaba con su hermano y su hermana.
——–Cuando se despertó en los Estados Unidos, sus hermanos no estaban con ella.
Una vez, la vi en el recreo, su pie en la pared del ladrillo.
Ella estaba llorando en secreto.
Le pregunte,
——–—¿Qué pasa?
Ella me dijo,
——–—Extraño a mis hermanos. Deseo que vinieran acá más pronto.
Ella ha estado esperando con paciencia por dos años.

The girl that breaks my heart.
In my class, there is a girl.
A nice and quiet girl, who breaks my heart.
She is from Mexico.
She came here with her mom, when she was four years old.
One night, she fell asleep in Mexico.
When she woke up, she was not in Mexico anymore.
——–When she went to sleep in Mexico, she was with her bother and her sister.
——–When she woke up in the United States, her brother and sister were not with her.
One time, I saw her at recess, standing on the brick wall.
She was crying in secret.
I asked her,
——–“What’s going on?”
She told me,
——–“I miss my brother and sister. I wish they would come here sooner.”
She has been waiting with patience for two years.

Learning in dreams.

El sueño en mi pared
por Jane Medina

Tengo un sueño en mi pared.
Lo dibujé durante el segundo grado.
La maestra nos dijo:
_____—Niñas y niños, dibujen sus sueños,
_____dibujen los sueños que sólo ustedes pueden ver.
Casi todos los niños dibujaron
_____salones llenos de billetes,
_____o casas bonitas con flores y chimeneas,
_____o juguetes o dulces o Disneylandia.
Pero yo dibujé un sueño
_____de un salón de clase lleno de niños
_____y una maestra morena bonita
_____muy parecida a mí.

Tengo un sueño en mi pared.
Lo pegué con cinta adhesiva.
Las puntas de la cinta están despegándose ahora.

The Dream on My Wall
by Jane Medina

I have a dream on my wall.
I drew it in the second grade.
The teacher said,
_____“Draw your dreams, boys and girls.
_____Draw the dreams that only you can see.”
Most kids drew
_____rooms full of dollar bills,
_____or pretty houses with flowers and chimneys,
_____or toys or candy or Disneyland.
But I drew a dream
_____of a class full of kids
_____and a pretty brown teacher
_____who looked just like me.

I have a dream on my wall.
I stuck it there with yellow tape.
Now the tape is curling at the ends.

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

What are the implications of an education system where the majority of educators and administrators—those who (theoretically) hold positions of authority and power over students—are White? As a child, I had very few teachers of color. How did this subconsciously impact my own perspectives and prejudices? What possibilities and potentials can arise when children experience and become accustomed to a diverse spectrum of individuals holding positions of power and authority?

What does it mean for me to be another White Man in a position of authority? How can I use this power to play with the power dynamics that have allowed me my own power and privilege in this country, community, classroom? How do I use this power responsibly, and what am I accountable to do with it?

Learning in poetry.

Equity / Justice Mission.
Where is the action?

Why Anti-Bias?
Out of integration, a
new bias is born.

Empathy is key
to building community
and transforming it.

Respond quickly to
discomfort. That moment makes
all the difference.

Poems are hidden
beneath / between / before us,
waiting to be found.

To Mr. Hermit,
hiding amongst books and desks:
Come out! See the world!

Oh distant student,
How do I show you I care?
I just keep smiling.

I won’t forget you,
my people in the margins.
In you, our hope grows.

Is Delinquency
a symptom of a need for
a Classroom that cares?

My project is to
inspire the Creators
within everyone.

Teaching is a Poem.

A Walk in the Park II by Wosene Worke Kosrof, 2004

Teaching is Poetry.

Poems hide…
What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them…
Maybe if we reinvent whatever our lives give us we find poems.

—Naomi Shihab Nye, in A Valentine for Ernest Mann

Teaching is Poetic.

Last week, I witnessed a middle school Veteran’s Day Assembly. One of the guest speakers was a young man who had just returned home (only days before) from Air Force service in Afghanistan. He talked about the importance of travel, the value of trying new/challenging things, the danger of making “bad choices” that distance us from our goals, and how in order to reach our goals we must actively work towards them (basically, mom+dad are not going to take care of you forever, jobs will not show up at your doorstep, relationships do not take care of themselves). His speech covered a lot of essential themes that are relevant to this age group. Yet, despite all of these big ideas, one (seemingly minor, easily forgettable) detail really stuck out to me. As he described his educational history, he explained how we do not need to be good at everything to succeed. At first I was drawn to this idea—I have witnessed so much pressure for Students to be good, to be the best, to get all As, to excel in every subject. Why must every student be so competitive, self-critical, infinitely ambitious in every content area? How often do all Students get time to feel like they get it, understand, are successful? Then he used the example of a poem he wrote in 5th grade, titled (with pseudonym) My Name is Adam Brown and I Like to Kick Rocks. I thought this was a fantastic concept for a poem, and hoped he was going to read it aloud to everyone! However, much to my disappointment, the purpose of this example was to show that he “sucks at poetry,” hates poetry, is “not good at poetry.” Apparently his 5th grade teacher agreed that his poetry writing was not up to Standard, was not good enough. His message was that despite being “bad at poetry,” he is still successful. And still thinks he is not a Poet.

This story was very troubling to me. I believe everyone has a Poet inside of them—sometimes hiding, always there. It is sad to me that this man has been conditioned to believe he cannot write poetry. It is even more sad that his Teacher was not able to recognize the poetic beauty and potential of his “simple” concept of kicking a rock down the road. What a rad image and story! Yet instead of capitalizing on the potential poetic creativity and confidence this story could unleash, this Teacher chose to build the (traumatic) foundation for a hatred of poetry. Rather than unleashing the Poet within, this Teacher chased the Poet into hiding, far deeper inside. This mindset becomes a psycho-social virus; now, as he speaks to hundreds of middle school students, he is validated/transmitting this same mindset to (many) others. What a dangerous virus/parasite of the soul.

Recently I have become inspired by the poem A Valentine for Ernest Mann by Naomi Shihab Nye. This poem is very accessible. For those that already love poetry, this asks Poets to recognize the poetic potential of everyday life as it passes us by, as we walk through it, in the places we least expect it to flourish. For those that do not yet love poetry, this provides exposure to a poem that can be grasped, understood, applied. It opens up a conversation about what counts as poetry (everything/anything!), and offers a model of creativity+beauty in unexpected places. Could poetry like this help a Teacher shape the conditions of possibility to re-direct/explode Students’ poetic lenses, to re-enchant their perceptions of everyday life? To be active and critical investigators/observers/surveyors/purveyors of the world(s) around them?

Over the past month, I have felt more and more drawn to the adolescent age groups. I strongly believe I want to teach middle-level humanities. My goal is to unleash the Creator within all of my Students. If I am successful, every Student will know they are a creative Writer, a critical Reader, and (perhaps most importantly) a Poet.