Not every student has a newborn calf in her barn, but everyone has a story.
I get kidded sometimes for reading more poetry than books on education, but then, when I’m least expecting it, a verse hits me and I realize that a poetic sensibility may be the right way to look at how best to do my job.
It happened a couple of weeks ago when a friend loaned me Edwin Romond’s collection Dream Teaching. With humor and poignancy, Romond captures the essence of working with students, and the interior life of a caring educator. If I were ever teaching a class on being an administrator, Dream Teaching would be required reading.
One poem struck me particularly. I’m a principal now, so while the poems about teaching sparked nostalgia, “Letter to My Principal” did even more.
The verse, formed as a poetic apology letter from a student, captured a spirit I see in kids all the time.
It begins with what I believe is earnestness and an acknowledgement of a decision technically against the rules:
I came to school late today
and I am sorry.
I do remember your note
about my punctuality
Those of us who have been site administrators know that our students sometimes make decisions that go against our school rules. We’ve written letters home about attendance and worked with teachers and parents to keep students in class.
Sometimes the temptations that lead kids to be late or absent are silly; sometimes they’re sinister, but Romond’s poem is a reminder that we do our jobs best when we don’t stop at the what, but ask for the why. The narrator of Romond’s “Letter” gives a why to remember.
…a calf was born last night
and I found him blinking
into his first morning…”
Rather than making this an excuse or complaint, the verse veers in a direction our students are not only capable of, but a condition more common in “kids today” than popular culture would have you believe: wonder.
Romond captures this when he writes:
So, please understand
I was caught in a sunrise
so gold it turned our barn
…I was set to leave, I swear I was,
but his mother, her eyes dark as plums,
began to bathe him with her tongue
moving like a paint brush
up and down his milky face,
and when he gazed at me
and mooed like a nervous bassoon,
what could I do but stay…”
Now I’m not suggesting the elimination of compulsory education, and any student reading this should know that too many tardies can still keep you from buying a ticket to the dance, but Romond’s poem reminds me just how important it is that in a society rushing so quickly from moment to moment and expectation to expectation, we pause to experience the magic and power of the world.
Education is humanity, not bureaucracy. Rules exist, and must, and alongside them exists beauty so gold it turns the schoolhouse pink.
What would our students write to each of us if they had Romond’s gift for words? What would they tell us if they dared or if we dared to listen?
“Letter to My Principal” dares, and does so with a passion and purpose that kindles thoughts poetic and a reminder to slow down and really listen.