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Love is Not Gross
All of the time
Last week I wrapped up twelve weeks of teaching poetry to 4th Graders at K. William Harvey Elementary in Ronan, MT. I really had no idea what to expect, and going in I was a bit daunted by the realization of just how long twelve weeks really is and that I would be meeting upwards of 70 new people. But as the commitment began to wind down, it started to feel like it wasn't enough time; not nearly enough time at all.
I'm not a teacher. And I'm guessing that it's been more years since I've been in a classroom than the teachers whose classrooms I was invading every Thursday have even been alive. But these four women were kind and gracious and welcoming and made what I was trying to do that much easier. Still, it wasn’t easy. Nor is it easy for them to show up day in and day out either. What a monumental, magnificent task.
What was I trying to do? Hard to say because I went in without a plan. More and more I hang my hat on being a Storyteller; not a writer, or poet, necessarily, those are just the avenues I generally take to relate stories. And I wanted to share stories from my own life, or lives that have connected to mine—centuries-old Asian poets, for example; Mary Oliver, Jim Harrison, Jim Steinman (the songwriter behind Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell record, in case you didn’t know), and others—because I knew that was the best way to be real and connected to the message I wanted to share.
Distilled all the way down that message is love. Love when we aren't even calling it love. Love for ourselves, no matter the circumstances we're in, and especially love for each other. It wasn't really even about poetry, though poems are what came out of it. Along the way I was deeply and profoundly moved myself, in ways unexpected. I've written about it in this space before, but it didn't end there. I'm not the same person I was going in.
My friend Kelli, also a teacher and now a woodcarver, who said in reference to all the jobs she's had that, "4th grade teacher was the most difficult and yielded the best stories," posted this to her Instagram page last week and summed-up what I want to say better than I ever could. Dig it:
During school I learned about Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educational theorist. He believed that true education comes from authentic dialogue between student and teacher, and that both become changed because of the exchange. He charged educators and their classrooms with the massive task of transforming rather than transmitting culture.
Thank you to the wizards out there working to make this happen in a system that doesn’t always appreciate or support you. Thank you for hanging on and harboring hope and love. Thank you for creating safe spaces for young minds and for being vulnerable and learning alongside them.
Go hug a teacher.
"Transforming rather than transmitting culture." I love that. And I like to think the dialogue I had with these students was authentic. It was to me anyway. And I am changed.
Here's the thing, though. Why does it seem like respecting education and funding our schools and supporting our teachers requires a fucking radical act? Because it sure seems like that's the case. Public education should be a priority, with comfortable schools and well-paid teachers. There should be resources to see to the needs of every student, whether it is help in specific areas of study or even just seeing them fed, or helping them deal with trauma, no questions asked. It is such a no-brainer that this attention is the route to a better world and yet ... we fail. Over and over. Year after year.
Anyone who argues against diverting massive public resources to education—and taxing the rich to pay for it so the rest of us don't need to dig deeper—is a certifiable asshole who should suffer a drubbing and be paraded through the town square in shame. I don't just mean K-12 either, but higher education too, whether it is university education or trade schools. It only sounds radical but it isn't. It's the thing to do and we must start now.
There is nothing less at stake than everything.