The Best of School: Lawrence & Zolynas

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.

D.H. Lawrence

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.

Algirdas Zolynas

A productive and rewarding year of teaching & learning to all.

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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