A Francisco San School Day

It was one of those days.
You know what I’m talking about.
There was the tremor in the morning
that left everyone unsettled.
No plaster cracked or fell from the walls,
but we all still shuddered inside
sporadically throughout the day.

Actually, it started before that
when I forgot the words to the pledge
of allegiance, as if I was that no man
who is an island, bound to none.
Another teacher gave me the glare
that said I was being seditious,
but it was my brain in rebellion
against me, not my heart.

And then walking up the stairs
to the classroom, it was as if the tread
of my shoe was gone, every step
was wrong, the wetness of the morning fog
now squeaking off loudly on the stairs,
my foot slipping so I almost fell,
and then giving a flat tire
to the little fourth-grade girl
struggling up the stairs in front of me.

After the tremor, they were timid.
Afraid to ask questions, to take smart risks,
as if the stigma of the label of special education
had been stamped on them all.
They weren’t themselves, as if their nether selves
had crawled up and thrown their sacred selves down.

I didn’t teach a single thing that day.
I swear everything I did only hindered
their progress rather than aiding it.
My lesson plans weren’t on my clipboard.
I couldn’t find the copies I’d made
the previous day. The teacher’s edition
wasn’t on the shelf of my podium.
My every effort only enmeshed my students
in a net of incompetence and ignorance.
By the end of the day, we were a tuft,
a dense clump, of humanity.

I dismissed them at two,
and sat alone in my classroom until three
dismissing myself.

/ / /

For this poem, I combined two prompts, Wordle 17 from The Sunday Whirl, and the prompt from Poetic Asides to write an “everything is against you” poem. Thanks to Brenda and Robert.

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12 thoughts on “A Francisco San School Day

  1. Oh Richard, teacher me wants to sit down and have some tea. We need to talk. 🙂 This piece reeks of familiarity from my world. I imagine you have a gentle nature that many of your students need to see in a man. We screw up all the time, we are people. There are some days lessons need to be thrown out. What if you and the students spent some time that day writing about your feelings after the tremor or creating collages, or…..? With the Japan quake so close on history’s horizon anxiety must have been palpable for many.

    Do you do earthquake drills? We don’t. I’m just curious.

    On another note, how can we require the pledge and honor the separation of church and state? I know that is not what your piece is about, but I feel that deeply every Monday morning during our recitation, and just wanted to vent.

    Thank you for sharing your teaching life with us. This is a favorite piece for me.
    ~Brenda

    • Brenda, thank you for your kind and thoughtful reply. This poem is an exaggeration of a really bad day, highly fictionalized, but I think you are seeing that I’ve drawn from real-life kinds of experiences.

      I’m open to talking about current events, things the students are concerned and curious about. We can’t do it all day, but you can always fit in five minutes. They often ask great questions that I don’t know the answer to and which I don’t have to teach, so I tell them they can go research it on their own and bring it back to the classroom and we’ll share it. So far this year, I’ve had a boy research when the first pennies were minted and a girl research what you call one since it isn’t prime or composite.

      We do earthquake drills.

      I’m clear with students when it comes up, that I consider the “under God” phrase optional, and explain to them the history of the pledge and how and when that was added. So, I hear you. I’m a firm believer in the separation of church and state. I don’t think you’re venting; it’s a valid concern that is often overlooked.

      Glad you liked the poem.

      Richard

    • Pamela, thank you. I’m glad you liked the movement of this one. I worry sometimes about the placement of things. I fairly regularly write a stanza that doesn’t stay in the order in which I wrote it. That happened with this one, so I worry a bit about the flow of it.

      Richard

  2. Your poem served to point out that teacher’s have bad days. That would never have occurred to me while I was in school–I mean, I had good teachers and bad teachers, but always considered them infallible and unshakable.

    I also find it strange that at 65, I’ve never felt an earthquake nor seen a tornado. Life is strange.

    • Mike, thanks. Yeah, we all have our bad days. It’s amazing how forgiving children can be when you’re having one; it probably helps that I was patient with them when they were having a bad day.

      I’ve felt many earthquakes since moving to California, and we had a scare over a tornado one day when I was in elementary school in Indiana. Life is strange.

      Richard

  3. Another fine example of wordle words melding with your own for a flawless, flowing piece. I didn’t end up writing to the PA prompt…ironically enough, because I felt like everything was conspiring against my efforts to write last week! Maybe I’ll now have to go back to that prompt and write about just that. Nice job combining the two. Loved that last stanza…I felt the defeat/exasperation in that. I know what that feels like.

    • Paula, thank you. I’m glad I noticed this prompt at PA, because it just seemed to work so well with those wordle words. At least, it gave me a place to start and a direction to go. Glad you like that last stanza.

      Richard

  4. Twas a lovely little trip inside your mind. I love, love this bit: “as if their nether selves
    had crawled up and thrown their sacred selves down.” I actually love earthquakes, good priority adjusters. A 7. was the largest I’ve crouched under my table through.

    • dark angel, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad you like that bit. I like earthquakes myself, in the way I like roller coasters; they’re both exciting and scary at the same time.

      Richard

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