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Poetry and English Education

To celebrate National Poetry Month, we will be posting poems that originally ran in one of the ten journals published by NCTE. This poem “To the Loud Mouth in Room 114: An Elegy” by Jeff Spanke comes from English Education:

To the Loud Mouth in Room 114: An Elegy
I see you standing on the six inch stage up front,
wrinkled Oxford sleeves rolled to the elbow,
matching shoes and belt, a power clashing tie,
all fittingly worn—
the student-centered sage waiting to change the ways
they embrace the world:
your fresh clay to mold into busts
of justice and peace and hope and yourself,
the revival of a spirit that comfort ignores.
They close the door and turn forward to feast
upon the riches you’ve sworn to provide.
Worms to the birds, all infant and chaste.
You have arrived. You will succeed. You are above
the stigma and crap that cripple your colleagues
from those classes you took before you Became.
You are a teacher, both identity and function.
You’ve earned this moment, this space.
You swear you’ll never hurt them.
I want to go up to that Me and slap his face,
Shut Up, I’d plead—you won’t last five years.
You’re going to lose here, curse the Leaders,
damn the System, and spread blame
like pneumonia.
You’ll never own your fault, in whole, though,
and you’ll hurt them when you leave.
You were great today; they needed tomorrow.
Don’t show that movie, don’t send that email.
Answer that parent and do your job.
Grade what you assign, and don’t resign
without a humble fight.
Go to the meetings and sleep
with eyes open and engaged.
Pass out their stupid tests; then teach
democracy, metaphors, commas, and Wow.
Shutting your mouth can’t silence you.
They give you braces if you’re not white and straight,
but you don’t need teeth to smile.
There’ll always be tests.
Don’t resist accountability.
You have a house and a family,
a name to protect and a plate
they’ll take off your door and throw in the trash
with the rest of the shit they find in lockers
when school’s over.
You’ll scare your baby when you cry,
And the loss of sleep will grease your hair and
make your breath reek of mourning.
Your wife will count quarters, keep coupons.
She’ll work longer hours and start searching
for cheaper daycares.
You’ll lie on Thanksgiving and die inside
when Dad says he’s proud.
Just Stop, I’d tell the Loud Mouth Me.
You don’t have to lose.
They need you close and can’t afford the cost
of your textbook excuses.
The mine may be toxic,
but you’re more than a canary.
Teach for the students, the kids in their seats:
Not their parents, your principal, the Super,
or anyone else.
Don’t let them beat you.
Find a wind farm, a dam, or some other source
of power—Or don’t.
Change some lives, fight the fight,
the school will blink, and you’ll be gone.
You’ll be me.
An ornithologist, grounded.

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About Lisa Fink

Lisa Storm Fink is the Project Manager for ReadWriteThink at NCTE. After teaching grades K-4 for almost 9 years, she brought her varied experiences (multi-age classrooms, looping, cooperating teacher for preservice teachers, plus a specialization in Remedial Reading) fulltime to the ReadWriteThink site. Lisa feels lucky to have worked on all parts of the ReadWriteThink site as a writer and reviewer, curriculum developer, and now as Project Manager. She enjoys sharing the site with others during professional development opportunities as well as with her preservice students at the University of Illinois.

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