M. Scott Peck defines love as, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” When I read that sentence on a beach after my first year as superintendent, I scribbled ‘teaching’ in the margin. What could better describe the work of teaching. DH Lawrence and Algirdas Zolynas expand on this theme in two of my favorite poems about teaching.
The Best of School
The blinds are drawn because of the sun,
And the boys and the room in colourless gloom
Of underwater float: bright ripples run
Across the walls as the blinds are blown
To let the sunlight in; and I,
As I sit on the shores of the class, alone,
Watch the boys in the summer blouses
As they write, their round heads busily bowed:
And one after another rouses
His face to look at me,
To ponder very quietly,
As seeing, he does not see.
And then he turns again, with a little, glad
Thrill of his work he turns again from me,
Having found what he wanted, having got what was to be had.
And very sweet it is, while the sunlight waves
In the ripening morning, to sit alone with the class
And feel the stream of awakening ripple and pass
From me to the boys, whose brightening souls it laves
For this little hour.
This morning, sweet it is
To feel the lads’ looks light on me,
Then back in a swift, bright flutter to work;
Each one darting away with his
Discovery, like birds that steal and flee.
Touch after touch I feel on me
As their eyes glance at me for the grain
Of rigour they taste delightedly.
As tendrils reach out yearningly,
Slowly rotate till they touch the tree
That they cleave unto, and up which they climb
Up to their lives—so they to me.
I feel them cling and cleave to me
As vines going eagerly up; they twine
My life with other leaves, my time
Is hidden in theirs, their thrills are mine.
Love in the Classroom
-for my students
Afternoon. Across the garden, in Green Hall,
someone begins playing the old piano–
a spontaneous piece, amateurish and alive,
full of a simple, joyful melody.
The music floats among us in the classroom.
I stand in front of my students
telling them about sentence fragments.
I ask them to find the ten fragments
in the twenty-one-sentence paragraph on page forty-five.
They’ve come from all parts
of the world–Iran, Micronesia, Africa,
Japan, China, even Los Angeles–and they’re still
eager to please me. It’s less than half
way through the quarter.
They bend over their books and begin.
Hamid’s lips move as he follows
the tortuous labyrinth of English syntax.
Yoshie sits erect, perfect in her pale make-up,
legs crossed, quick pulse minutely
jerking her right foot. Tony,
from an island in the South Pacific, sprawls
limp and relaxed in his desk.
The melody floats around and through us
in the room, broken here and there, fragmented,
re-started. It feels Mideastern, but
it could be jazz, or the blues–it could be
anything from anywhere.
I sit down on my desk to wait,
and it hits me from nowhere–a sudden,
sweet, almost painful love for my students.
“Never mind,” I want to cry out.
“It doesn’t matter about fragments.
Finding them or not. Everything’s
a fragment and everything’s not a fragment.
Listen to the music, how fragmented,
how whole, how we can’t separate the music
from the sun falling on its knees on all the greenness,
from this moment, how this moment
contains all the fragments of yesterday
and everything we’ll ever know of tomorrow!”
Instead, I keep a coward’s silence.
The music stops abruptly;
they finish their work,
and we go through the right answers,
which is to say
we separate the fragments from the whole.
A productive and rewarding year of teaching & learning to all.