On Teachers

Discovered on a 1956 English Comprehension Test:*

Q 94: Study the picture and fill in the blankteachers' work
As a child, Nancy often dreamed of running away and joining the circus, although she never imagined it would be as a __________.

(a) juggler
(b) clown
(c) dictionary
(d) lady policeman
(e) clinical psychologist
(f) teacher

(* ahem… honest)

Following on from last issue’s poetry page ‘On Teaching and Learning’, here we turn the spotlight on teachers themselves at various stages of their careers from youth to the end of their tethers. We start with trainee teachers facing surprising candor in Krista Lukas’ amusing anecdote Gifted and Talented, but are soon plunged into the depths of anxiety through the poetic prose of Cesar Klauer’s Return to the infant. Michael Salovaara further plumbs hearts darkened by the suppressed stress of interpersonal politicking in am I your rival before we surface to the mature calm of David McMurray’s teacher of poetry in his haibun Teapot. With Zen-like wisdom this teacher succinctly answers a question by not answering a question, and in doing so speaks volumes about the art of teaching. We finish with Martin Bennett’s Old Teacher, who, desiccated by a lifetime at the chalkface, muses upon a school-inspired metaphysical conceit that leaves both him and us pondering perhaps the ultimate existential question of all…


Gifted and Talented

For my teaching license, I am required
to take a class called “Mainstreaming,”
in which we learn about every kind
of kid who could walk or be wheeled
through our future classroom doors.

Not the blind, the deaf, and the handicapped,
but students with
blindness, deafness, developmental delays,
autism, moderate to severe
learning disabilities, hyperactivity,
attention deficit, oppositional defiance
disorder, and so on.

The instructor, an elementary
principal by day, who outlines
each chapter and reads to us
these outlines each Wednesday
from six to nine, devotes
one hour one night to the subject
of students with
gifts and talents, who might also
come through our future.

Regarding special programs
for such students, one teacher-candidate asks,
“Do you have to be gifted to teach them?”
“No.” The principal-instructor
shakes her head, as if
such a thing would be impossible.
“Not many gifted people
go into education.”


Return to the infant

Into the dangerous world I was thrown, where things and breath shimmer and noise is hushed up. Like a wrongdoer hidden in a mist, I became the portrait of  myself at an early stage. 
The place I entered was a delusion (surely all those footmarks on the floor were mine). But I am not even here, except on weekends, when a small tremble is induced by bell songs at noon. (Why do I tell you these things?) Bound and weary, I long for my mother´s milk.


am I your rival

am I your rival was the question
the response am I yours greeted
not quite a rictus smile nor grimace
silence supercooled in stasis
broke with a laugh
the glassy moment, a Doppler shift
in high pressure atmospherics
planing the precious mundane
a destination yet charted
awaiting the denouement
to answer the question



By the time I empty this teapot, I’ll know how to answer my student, I reasoned. For most haiku poets, words are not the most important focus. Neither is what they intend for us to read between the lines. Season words are not the most essential part of a haiku. Whether a haiku is structured in a 5-7-5 syllable form or a pithier 3-5-3, it is not so integral to the haikuist. Writing about the weather or a frog does not make a haiku. Metaphor is not the end of the world. Nor is ellipsis… We could banter back and forth about this but, really, for the haikuist timing is everything.

evening sun
question unanswered
enters the sea


Old Teacher

‘So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar…’ (Robert Browning)

Spirit turning to chalk within his chest,
He puts his head in his hands and ponders classes,
The bad, the not-so-bad, the downright dreadful,
Contemplates tired, tireder, tiredest,
And suddenly death is not so dire a prospect;
At the other end of his illness
An eternally free period, not having to fret
Over next lesson, inspectors and the rest –
A world minus timetable or bell,
Where silence is the uninterrupted norm,
Babel a figment of the pedantic past
Of thwarted explanations, pauses, yells:
Or else the test of tests –
No desk to provide check or distance,
A set text at last made actual,
And he inextricably inside it –
Questions weightier than any paper,
Mark scheme and answer sheet gone missing…

For the fall 2014 issue contents page for poetry, click here.