What they have to learn

The teacher hadn’t enjoyed teaching in a long while

ever since her notions and reality rubbed against one another

exploding the myth she held in teaching college, of making a difference

her students

whom the administrators asked her to refer to as clients

wanted to pay for a degree, not to learn

we don’t have time to study they lamented

we are too busy with everything else which is, so much more important

the students

did not respect her because she earned less than

they believed they would earn in a few years time

she wanted to say DREAM ON but it was no longer acceptable

to tell the truth

especially with college administrators

(who were paid well, to shuffle papers from desk to desk)

watching in the wings

she recalled why

she had wanted to be a teacher

at eight she’d been sent to a foster home

where the ‘father’ decided to show and tell

using his fingers in wrong positions

she ran away and lived

underneath a bridge for the night

listening to the stars wink on and off

and the weave and fall of the world

the next day they found her, dirty and lost

spanked her for making up lies about being abused

and sent her to another foster home

this time the mother

starved her lean

told her she was fat and ugly

when she hardly weighed in

got her to clean and cook and scrub

she preferred that kind of reality

it didn’t involve lies it was honest in its

taste of cruel

when summer was over and she returned to school

a new teacher had begun work

she had the faraway eyes of a dreamer

and her voice was soft like bird song

without saying a word she knew the children who

had been neglected and abused

she’d encourage them often and whisper in their ears

this may seem like this is all there is

but there’s so much more!

one day you will be free to escape your confines

you can shrug off your sadness and become

anything you want

so when the time came for her to age out of the system

she didn’t bring flowers and a card for her foster-mother

instead she packed her single bag and left before

morning showed in the sky

the room was bare and emptied but somehow

it didn’t look so different to when she’d lain there

trying to take up the smallest space

funny that we can inhabit a place for so many years and

when we leave it’s like we were never there

a wraith who didn’t get heard or couldn’t

break out of her little mincing trap of potted meat

she hated the flabby jowls and empty eyes

of those who pretended to keep

her safe

being old enough now to look after herself she

enrolled in teaching college hoping one day

she could reach a child who sat at the back of class

with dirty socks and a mouth full of regret

but time moves on and things change even as they stay the same

kids become hardened, demanding, insolent

hurry up, please it’s time!

parents throw expectations like rocks and call educators

pathetic losers who can’t do, so they teach

she wondered

is cruelty a vein, like in a rock

inherited over time to savage and destabilize

our yearning for safety?

standing there, in her cheap hose and one good pair of shoes

the scuff blacked out by polishing

she saw in the sassing faces of her classroom

a loss of care for changing the world

her own longing to reach through time and alter

one person’s trajectory lost

in the hustle bustle of uncaring formula

spitting out diplomas and marching forward

not thinking at all

about what they have to learn

Written for World Teacher Day. In appreciation of teachers.