Best & worst of school from DH Lawrence

Lawrence learned first hand of the joys and frustrations of teaching in a school for boys. These two poems capture the best and worst of teaching—the trill of watching the light bulbs go off and the frustration of the questioned pursuit.  I saw a good deal of both the joy and frustration in my school visits this spring and thought of Lawrence.

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.

Last Lesson of the Afternoon

When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?

How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,

My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start

Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,

I can haul them and urge them no more.

No longer now can I endure the brunt

Of the books that lie out on the desks; a full threescore

Of several insults of blotted pages, and scrawl

Of slovenly work that they have offered me.

I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?

What good to them or me, I cannot see!

So, shall I take

My last dear fuel of life to heap on my soul

And kindle my will to a flame that shall consume

Their dross of indifference; and take the toll

Of their insults in punishments?—I will not!—

I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.

What do I care for all that they do amiss!

What is the point of this teaching of ine, and of this

Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.

What does it matter to me, if they can write

A description of a dog, or if they can’t?

What is the point? To us both, it is all my aunt!

And yet I’m supposed to care, with all my might.

I do not, and will not; they won’t and they don’t;

and that’s all!

I shall keep my strength for myself; they can keep

theirs as well.

Why should we beat our heads against the wall

Of each other? I shall sit and wait for the bell.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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