Thursday, September 18, 2008

for those who asked... Life Map for the MAT program, in the form of an epic poem (don't say I didn't warn's long!)

On the First Day of School
by Joann Renee

On the first day of school, 1988
I proudly donned the dress Mama made
Saddle shoes dancing merrily to education’s door:
Kindergarten was a game I was determined to win.
Within a few months I overheard
Teacher and mother scheming to slow me down
I was too far ahead of my peers
Brightly colored tongue depressors numbering to twelve were deemed the remedy

Don’t slow me down
You can’t stifle this
Joyful nerdiness
Desperate to frolic free

On the first day of school, 1990
I was waiting by the door, hopping foot to foot
The PACE curriculum allowed me to excel
Going through each booklet as quickly as I could
Tongue depressor strategies behind me
“Homework” never actually made it home, being finished
By ending bell, and I was free
To read of Mandy’s adventures till lights out at 8:30

On the first day of school, 1992
I was only slightly trepidatious to be in Daddy’s class
Worried my friends might think I was favored
Or, worse, that my life would be turned into lesson plans
I needn’t have fretted
For the most part, school was
The same as every year prior:
Loving each class and overachieving

Don’t slow me down
You can’t stifle this
Joyful nerdiness
Desperate to frolic free

On the first day of school, 1995
I nervously eyed the junior high classrooms
But three years in Daddy’s class was enough
So I took a deep breath and stepped into seventh grade
The switch had been made completely to A-Beka books
And I mourned the loss of PACE-ing myself
Academic boredom began to set in as “showing your work”
Became the dirge sung to my previously blossoming brain

Don’t slow me down
You can’t stifle this
Joyful nerdiness
Desperate to frolic free

On the first day of school, 1997
High school beckoned and I anticipated
Kimmie’s classes—sister, ten-years my senior, soon
Inspired and exploited my theatrical love
Still academically unchallenged, my little brother,
Tutor Me Timmy, was allowed to jump
Ahead two years in math. My class. He got A’s. I got A plusses.
But Shakespeare kept my mind alive as I performed Hermia

On the first day of school, 2000
UVC was the oyster and I was its pearl
Eleven years plus kindergarten at this school boiled
Down to this: 4-point-oh, ASB vice president and ready
For more fun with my 27 classmates. Blissful
Year made poignant by straight-laced, creatively-challenged
Administration applying retribution for the artistic sins of moved-on Kimmie
To me in increasingly unjust severity

Don’t slow me down
You can’t stifle this
Joyful nerdiness
Desperate to frolic free

On the first day of school, 2001
I opened my eyes and stretched luxuriously
In the vast academic galaxies available for deep exploration
Relishing the new friends and challenges
I barely had time to be angered by assumptions
That I too, like my father, sister, brother, cousins, aunts and uncles
Would teach
After all, that’s the only thing music majors can really do

Stop telling me what to do,
What to do, what
To be, who I am—
Even if you’re right

On the first day of school, 2003
Exhausted of being categorized I expanded
My major to include theatre and writing/literature
It’s not that I didn’t agree
I would make an excellent teacher
I think
But being the fourth of five children,
I needed to define myself

Stop telling me what to do,
What to do, what
To be, who I am—
Let me reach my own conclusions

On the first day of school, 2004
Graduation was tangible and looming
Like a little black rain cloud hovering over
My Impressionistic honey tree, weighted heavily
With drops of reality I wasn’t sure I wanted to taste
Perhaps I should teach battled with No back-up plan!
I blinked and the squabble was exchanged for a mortar
Board and sighs of good-bye

Stop wondering what to do,
What to do, what
To be, who I am—
Even if you’re wrong

On the first day of school, 2005
I was shocked to find myself back in school
Well, an internship program actually
Two years spent eating, breathing, loving, sleeping
Westside Church in the high desert
Two years of high school students laughing, loving,
Failing, hurting, asking, needing, wanting
One by one encouraging, answering, challenging

On the first day of school, 2007
For the first time in 20 years, I wasn’t a student
Jealously watered my eyes
As I watched a young woman grade English papers at my favorite coffee shop
All my life I had classified myself in only three categories:
Single. Christian. Student.
Redefinition was suddenly imperative

Start answering the questions of
What to do, what
To be, who I am—
And be

Late spring, 2008
After a horrible night at the end
Of a twelve-month of horrible
Forging ahead after being left behind
The honey tree reappeared in clarity
Hindsight is 20/20—now I see
The email in my inbox confirmed
My conclusion

Two things I was made
To do or perish:

MAT 005
On the first day of school, 2008
There are the obvious other
Things God intends for me:
To love, to serve, to encourage, etc.
But this is living
Driving home the first night
A perma-smile startled those
In the fast lane

Mirriam-Webster defines
A teacher as one who:
Causes to know
Accustoms to think
Imparts knowledge
Instructs by example or experience
Makes known and accepted
Provides instruction

Using my pilot-approved hindsight
To weigh the good, bad and simply revolting
Moments of my education
Formal and non
I will add to my morphing definition
That a teacher is one who:
Always encourages, and never stifles
Trusts first, unless proven guilty
Allows passion to drive each lesson
Refuses favoritism
Inspires brilliance in those who had given up
Challenges beyond the four walls of the classroom
Provides a broad world view
Thinks outside the box continually
Is willing to see their mistakes and improvise new strategies
Loves each student despite a breaking heart
Fights for idealism no matter how corny it may be

I’ve always been a hopelessly romantic optimist
With an overactive imagination—
Which is probably why when asked
What I wanted to be
When I grew up, I said
Shirley Temple,
Then a rock
Star, then to reach
The stars as an astronaut,
Then, when Jurassic Park came out,
To be a paleontologist dusting dinosaur bones

When I read what Colleen Wilcox said,
Teaching is the greatest
Act of optimism.

I smiled.


Jim said...

Wow! What a 'stroll' down memory lane! Your insights challenge me in the teaching arena, though not sure if that is where I will end up . . .

Lis said...

Fabulously done. As my own journey to teaching this year has been fraught with doubt and perplexity, I resonated with your striving against and to it. Just yesterday, a great article about creative writing and teaching came out in NYTimes: I believe the most important thing he says is about how it can thoroughly enrich "the craft" which he is talking about as writing, but which could be other creative pursuits, possibly even music composition, rather than detracting from them. Bringing us out of one creative world and into the teaching creative world can shine light in both directions, each upon the other. It is brave, optimistic, and also very inspiring! I'm so glad you made it to that first day of class this year.

timmy said...

It's always a pleasure to read your poems. This one is an excellent summation of your life, and though long, it was the perfect length!