The Darkness and the Light

Their program nearly over, the student teachers settled in
and waited for the start of their last class.
All in eager anticipation; careers set to begin,
yet still amazed at just how quick the year had passed.

The work was finished so they figured that this would be the time and place
to say goodbyes and and on the year to reminisce.
But to their great surprise they learned that wouldn’t be the case.
The prof said, “I’ve been waiting for the chance to ask you this.”

Was this a joke? No, she was serious.There would be no chit chat.
So, they sat up straighter and gave to her their full attention,
thinking, “what on earth could be so all important that
she left it right until the very end to mention?”

Without a word the lights she turned off, the window blinds she closed
and then went and softly shut the door so tight.
And in the silent, unlit room the question then she posed,
“tell me please, when does the darkness become light?”

It was as if the clock had stopped; nobody made a sound.
All sat waiting, thinking, “I don’t want to be the one to answer this.”
But time did pass and the realization slowly came around:
someone would have at least to offer up a guess.

Now, quite a few of them engaged in a game of second guessing,
thinking that to find the answer would not be all that hard.
And on this last day perhaps she’d planned one final simple lesson.
Yet, the quiet stillness of the room had caught them all off-guard.

A first attempt, was offered up, “Wait, I think I know.
It’s when the words within our books then can be seen.
So truth and knowledge can finally on our students be bestowed.
And, best of all, new insights and subtleties be gleaned.”

She shook her head, no, uh-uh then at what she’d heard,
saying, “who says reading is a thing they’ll even want to do?
So many find their truth and live without the printed word.
And aren’t books best when guided by insight and wisdom too?”

Some were now perplexed but then there came another try.
“It’s when the class can see the notes and such I put upon the board,
and pass out gems of knowledge, their consideration to apply,
so precious facts to their growing memories then can all be stored.”

But shook her head again, retorting, “it’s not at all just about you.
And you should never equate the act of teaching with that of telling.
You’ve got to guide, help and demonstrate; yes, all of that is true.
But it’s what your students can perform that should be the most compelling.”

One student, braver than the rest, offered up one last response.
“It’s when they can see my classroom and all the wonders that it holds
and my students in their courses can thus find themselves ensconced,
and feel the magic of the learning that inside there unfolds!”

But she shook her head again and said, “no, that’s still not just quite it.
Each of your classes are important but they’re not the only one.
Our subjects are mere elements of a much larger kit.
It’s more than just your stuff that counts considering the long run.”

Nothing was said til at some length, once more the prof resumed,
“You’re wondering what was wrong with what you said?
Frankly, the answer is ‘nothing much’; they were as clever as you’d assumed.
It’s just that your words did not quite jive with what was in my head.”

“The need for guidance and compassion was far from in your sights.
Then you put yourselves out front, when it’s students who matter most.
And you were fixated on what divides and not on what unites.
It’s as if the differences were what had you all engrossed.”

While she spoke the student teachers became increasingly aware
of how their eyes had become accustomed to the light so low.
And looking around, a simple truth began to become clear,
and through it all a bunch of smiles did glow.

And in the ever-rising light, her voice continued, “You’d
best bear in mind it’s not just about how to earn a living.
School is about learning how to build a life that’s good.
And for instilling in our young folk all the the joy that comes from giving.”

“So it’s best to recognize those gathered all around
share and walk much of the path that lies in front of you.
And, like you, endeavour to pursue a life that’s sound
while to themselves always remaining true.”

“When you are able to discern the commonalities
and let them be the guide to your insight,
then recognize that the school unites us all in family:
that is when the darkness becomes light.”

Each year, at their year – end gala, I do a recitation for outgoing graduates of the Intermediate / Secondary teacher education program at Memorial University of Newfoundland, my place of work. The above is this year’s installment.

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For Wilbert, a True Friend and Mentor

“This can’t be true.” I looked again
but the words remained there, plain to see.
“Life’s setting sun is sinking low.”
I wondered, “how could this be?”

The very one who, so many times,
stood firm for what you knew was right
and who broke down walls to get things done,
with modesty, honesty and foresight.

And who, for friends, and home and family
stood strong, the worst you’d face
is now facing the end, but still my friend 
holds courage, strength and grace.

And for my part, stronger than the sadness
I know some time soon I must endure
from my memory springs the many things
I have yet to thank you for.

I’m reminded of the first time we met.
You, then the province’s consultant for Math Ed.
agreed to help this “young gaffer” (your words)  
with advice on a paper I just couldn’t put to bed.

Well, based on the insight and knowledge
you so freely gave me on that day
my mediocre work improved
and, thanks to you, the paper earned an “A”.

And then in the early nineties when
distance education physics was set to go
and I hinted “hire me” to who was in charge
my rejection came as a humbling blow.

But when my school board got a call
asking if they could second me to do that very chore
I knew right then there was one more thing
I had to thank you for.

And then, later on, when the axe fell,
budgets slashed and so much was let go
you found a way for me to stay,
even gave me more chances for to grow.

Like when you managed the Vista project
which reinvisioned online learning,
you found for me a space–and t’was through that grace
my career took its next turning.

For the skills I learned all through that time
and the responsibilities you helped me learn to bear
I did apply as we built CDLI,
so thanks, too, for all those years.

I’ve often wondered how best to thank you for
the opportunities, support and, of course, advice
but I came to see you just did it unselfishly.
There never was a price.

And so, now I work my time with those
on the same path that that we once chose.
And the journey they’re on is so very long.
It’s a less kind world these days, I do suppose.

Still it seems to me that the best way
to honour all the kindness you’ve bestowed
is to pass it on and try to help those
with whom I share this road.

So when I find a way to help another
through some thing I say or do
I’ll feel that same sense of gratitude
and smile, then and there,
as I think of you.

wilbert-01
My favourite picture of you, taken back in ’99 on the occasion of your retirement. Back Row: Lloyd Gill. Wayne Oakley, Harvey Weir, Dave Dibbon, Rachel Handrigan, Wade Sheppard, Rene Wicks. Front Row: Wilbert Boone, Maureen Boone, Jean Brown, Maurice Barry

What do I Teach?

My friend Ed Wade was shocked to hear I planned to offer you advice.
Said, “They’ve heard enough of our old stuff. Some stories should suffice.”
Let’s do both, but be forewarned, you’re about to hear the pronoun “I” a lot.
It’s not about me, but about you, and maybe you’ll find some food for thought.

As this past year went by so fast many thoughts have came my way.
So I supposed I’d draw on those to frame out what to you I’d say.
I don’t want to ramble as I often do. I’ll try to be more concise
and gauge my speed against your need to check what’s on your mobile device.

This time each year I try to put a few words together for you
who are about to start; words from the heart; advice on what you might do.
In the past I made a list of things that seemed important at the time
and figured a way for me to say them in a way that rhymed.

But looking back I realized I’d made an error fundamental,
said too much, and so, as such, lacked an idea that was central.
Therefore, this time I took my own advice, and thought it through before I begun.
So now I’ll share one idea here, not a bunch as from a scatter gun.

“What do you teach?” I’ve often been asked by people I’ve just met.
That’ll be the thing to which I’ll cling in the few words you’re about to get.
But first let’s come around to it in a way that makes more sense
for you’re all from here, and you know, my dears that’s not how things commence.

You see around here, when you meet someone, first thing they will blurt out
is, “Hello me son, where are ya from?” They know people from there no doubt.
Next thing you’re asked is what you do—that’s the one that leaves me most concerned.
Are they following cues, or judging you, based on what they think you earn?

And so you answer them as you see fit; maybe ask about them too,
‘til finally they come around to the one about which I’m making all this ado.
“Oh! What do you teach?” they’ll ask, expecting you to answer in terms so short & plain.
Ah, it makes me squirm, I must affirm! Please sit and listen while I explain.

You’re thinking maybe I can’t commit, for many of you know why I have no tattoos.
You’ve heard my fears that after seven years, when our bodies are made anew,
the several things that once meant the most will likely have been replaced
as experience brings even more new things and the old stuff gets displaced.

But it’s more than that, sure I’ve changed. In first year MUN I’ve memories so clear.
Physics and Math, choosing, all the while musing teaching them as my career.
But my first job in a small rural school proved that wouldn’t be the case.
Eleven courses kinda forces subject teaching to an impossible pace.

I found it best to look at my students instead of the subjects that I taught.
It being a small school I found, as a rule, I’d have ‘em again more often than not.
Knowing their strengths & shortcomings let me get the most from those I’d been assigned.
Nine years came & went with me giving 100%, ‘til to move on I felt inclined.

I still recall that day twenty five years ago when I landed what was then my dream job.
Teaching Physics and Math online—ah the stars had aligned for this poor geeky bay-dwelling knob!
And to my delight I found that things hadn’t changed much. I still taught students from small rural schools.
Taught multiple subjects, and in many respects still able to use all my tried and tested teaching tools.

And so the time passed. Every few years brought more change: some good, some bad, some unexpected.
I got better, yup, yet I often screwed up, but each time I had more experience thus collected.
And so, over time, many things became clearer—that’s one gift that experience brings.
What I teach,” I now know, and I’ll tell you, although, first let me clarify several important things.

In the time you’ve been here many of you’ve come to know there’s some questions that I love to ask.
My favourite? This is it, “What’s love’s opposite?” If you say, “hate” I will take you to task.
For both love and hate coexist; you can feel both at one time, so opposites then they surely can’t be.
So take away love, yes, go give ‘er a shove, and what’s left is not hate but apathy.

So I caution you, then, when you’re put in clarge of a class and your priority is maintaining control,
keeping the sweet little dears all quiet—or in fear—really, that should never ever be your first goal.
Be mindful that when they’re unwilling to express what’s going on inside of their heads
you’re just flying blind, while they’re falling behind. All hands’d be better off at home in their beds!

But in all the time that I’ve asked of the opposite of love not one soul has shot back, “But what’s love?”
To me that seems weird, but perhaps you were “afeard” I’d keep babbling…I’m like that…sort of.
As you probably know, there’s many possible responses; the ancient Greeks spoke of no less than eight.
But it is this for me: “to want you become the best you can be.” So to teach is to love; ain’t it great!

So, then, as you practice your craft, and get on with your lives, you’ll let students in more and more.
And while their joys you will share, I bid you beware for then they can hurt you right down to the core.
And after several bouts of this you may feel jaded and wonder if it’s all really worth the price.
But let there be no doubt, once they’re “in” there’s no “out.” Been there, and on that I’ve advice.

At times you’ll get hurt, perhaps by students you love, or maybe because of the stunned things you’ll do.
Perhaps you’ll be too headstrong, at any rate there’ll be wrong that will leave you feeling broken too.
When you’re down you’ve three choices of what happens next. Here they are in the order of ease:
First: stay down, don’t get up, you poor sweet buttercup. If that’s you, you best quit now; do it please.

Second, you can get back on your feet and go on, displaying fortitude and resiliency.
But there’s a third choice: become stronger; it’s been voiced by sages with some brilliancy.
In order to get stronger, first you must get hurt but work carefully on that damage, I implore.
Because your strength it will grow and in time it will show, you’re far better than you were before.

After all there’s no sense expecting students and class to always be perfect and bright.
Rose-coloured glasses, are only for asses convinced their way is the only one that is right.
For once you get used to letting your students just be, even cranky and putting you to the test
they’ll trust you enough to share with you the stuff you need to help them be their best.

So I know you’re wondering, “Where’s the point in all this?” After all I promised an answer to you.
But you made a mistake, said my time I could take. To me that’s licence for some ballyhoo.
One last thing I will tell: back when I was in school, I was advised I should be an engineer.
At gadgets I liked to pick, I could fix ‘em right quick so ‘twas a good choice for me, they were clear.

But there was this thing, see there was something else that intrigued me far more than that stuff.
And so when I applied to MUN ‘twas cut and dried, choosing Education, for me, was not tough.
Yes, messing around in the lab is still fun, but a life in the classroom leaves me with no remorse.
And if you haven’t figured it out, what I teach, there’s no doubt: I teach students, of course!