I was inspired to write (and record) this poem about the Oklahoma teacher shortage last summer. My friend Shanedra always jokes that I do my best writing when I’m angry, and it may be true to the extent that those moments when I’m angry are the moments when I’m more likely to carve out the time to write. Lauren Zuniga had just visited the OSU Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, and she is a killer spoken word poet, hence my getting up the guts to record this one. Stay strong, teachers.
Sidebar: If you are one of the handful of people who visited my education blog last summer, this is its new home. Trying to resuscitate it with this piece and get into a routine. Wish me luck.
Years ago a friend and I started a paper called
“Teaching and Learning in the Red.”
We carried a Ziploc baggie of dirt to our conference in Ohio,
In one of our checked bags,
knowing no one would really understand
what we meant
when we said the earth itself was red here.
I’m an Okie born and raised.
I love this clay
unwillingly sprouting redbuds and okra,
Poke salad and persimmons.
Potato mountains roll eastward
that could carry a girl
right into Arkansas
And home again.
But now I hear fire and brimstone stories of how
all the schools are going straight to hell.
“Well, you know, there are those few exceptions.”
A lie repeated so often that, “Goodness,
It must be true…’bout everywhere but my child’s school.”
A billows fanning the flames of fear:
Our police stations,
Teachers making miracles in the rubble
For demanding textbooks
Updated more often than
man may reach the moon.”
And don’t you dare ask for a raise, missy.
Especially a teacher shouldn’t ask for a raise.
Because she doesn’t do it
for the money.
It hurts to know
Just how much
Why, what else could possibly explain her salary?
My grandmother watched her family leave
as the Dust Bowl
Drove them out.
There are days I dream of Oregon.
Mountain breezes and mail-in ballots
Call my name.
But red clay is a stain
I can’t remove.
This is where I’m from
Goerge Ella Lyon
Like my grandmother before me,
I’ll last through this not-so-great
Despite the fact that the hottest bumper sticker
this year reads,
“Okie teacher for Texas or bust!”
You won’t see me piling into
anybody’s damned jalopy.
But I can’t blame my friends who do.
Because the pay is only the first few steps on a steep hill.
I once ran a 5K at the Pawnee Bill Ranch.
You’ll have a new appreciation for just what it means to run
up a steep hill.
for the copy paper,
the classroom library,
out of your own
And forget that field trip.
Good luck finding a sub ‘cause we can’t pay them.
The Sherwin-Miller Museum is a 20 minute drive,
We can’t swing a bus to get your kids there anyway.
But I’m sure a virtual visit will be the same as standing face to face
With the Klan robes mounted there.
A white wave of nausea breaking over you.
But no time to think about that.
Because you’re teaching in a 4 day week what you’d have taught in 5
With 1/3 more students than you had last year.
Because the good teacher
Doesn’t do it
For the money?
So yeah, I don’t begrudge anybody who walks back down this hill
Huffing and hot,
Muttering, “It doesn’t have to be this hard.”
After days of climbing the Pawnee Bill hill
Anybody will start wondering
how it’s still ascending all the way through the ranch
In a mystical breach of the laws of physics,
that 5K ‘round a flat-as-a-flitter north Texas lake is soundin’ pretty good.
And that’s still a pretty intense run.
How long am I supposed to be mad at my friends — who are staying the course
But seek one that’s just not quite so steep?
Every body has its limits.
For this, dear colleagues, you owe precisely no one an apology.
You’re still running.
For those of us left here, we are going to have to
stand in line
Row upon row
Trees planted in our collective convictions
To keep these winds from further eroding the soil
From under our feet.
We are still,
Those who pretend not to see –
“What crisis?” –
are all bluster and illusion.
Their Scooby Doo villain
to our pesky persistence.
Bad hair day in the making
When we finally unite
with our communities to
Sure, it can look like a tornado
From a distance.
But when it gets closer
We find they’ve mustered only a dust devil.
Swirling broken promises
Etched on brittle leaves when finally
Red and blue,
Leaves make for excellent compost.
And in Oklahoma, we grow hearty teachers.
Next time you hear someone say
“But they don’t do it for the money,”
Let’s be clear about what
The resource to make
A fertile intellectual space
for our students,
Rich with ideas
and some room to grow.
Okie educators are
For our students
Our kids and, yes,
need a lot more green.
7 thoughts on “Red Dirt Teacher”
Powerful poem. This is outstanding work, Robin! Love the steep hill metaphor, and the “solve for – why” line.
Thank you Jenn! I was reminded how hard it is to take a risk to try a new kind of writing — the spoken word piece especially was out of my comfort zone (I won’t tell you how many draft recordings are on my phone!) — I stayed up late getting this all ready to go and share so I didn’t chicken out, but as I told my little sister this morning, “You can’t be a chicken and be a writer, so here goes!” All that to say, I very much appreciate your feedback!
Really enjoyed this. There is so much truth in these words. We teachers keep, keeping on, but it is getting harder and harder.
Thanks Rick; keep up the good fight!
Very powerful!!! Great job!!
Powerful and beautifully written…