Better

Dear Erika,

I have been teaching for eighteen years. Aurora, Parker, Spain, Denver. I (mostly) grew up in Denver, where the public school system is pretty much a shitshow compared to upstate New York, where I learned everything by age eleven that was then repeated at Merrill Middle School.

I have seen every teaching style, from direct-lecture to let’s-let-the-students-decide (DSA before what it is now). My former school (in Parker) paid $20,000 annually for us to be a part of a program that was based on improving teaching by learning through our peers. Learning labs. Peer observations. The whole gamut.

Just a bit of background to let you know that I haven’t just stood in front of a group of Newcomers for eighteen years.

I’ve seen, co-taught with, and even evaluated, every type of teacher. The let-loose, out-of-control-classes type of teacher. The expert-in-every-way, loving-just-enough type of teacher. The middle-of-the-road teacher.

And it’s taken more than a week for me to write this to you. And I know that he already left and I would never in a million years deny you the opportunity to stay home with your beautiful child.

Yet when I asked you, point-blank as I always do, if you’d come back? It breaks my heart that you shrugged.

Because you are NOT the let-loose, out-of-control-classes type of teacher, nor the middle-of-the-road teacher. You know and I know that you are the one.

The one who, in your own subtle fashion, captures the entire class. Calling on every kid. Listening to what they have to say. Taking in their expressions and their hidden voices. Reading aloud. Helping them to understand the complexities of our oppressive system while acknowledging their experiences with it.

You once brought your mother with you to a PD I was running. How absurd, that I was running a PD for YOU to learn from. As if you couldn’t have been teaching us all, in your calm and supportive way, how to be better. Your mother, also a teacher, who gave you what you have, who put everything into you that makes you who you are.

Better at teaching.

Better at not having those gut-wrenching reactions.

Better at being truthful without being hurtful.

Better at being yourself.

I wish I could be there to witness what you are about to endeavor. The chasing of toddlers. The balancing of life with a firefighter. The even-keeled response to life that encompasses who you are.

I wish I could be there to thank you. Because you are not just a teacher. You are one of the teachers who listened to me when I cried for my daughter’s soul and.

Saved her.

You’re one in a million. Better than I will ever be.

And I hope you know that. I hope those hundreds of kids who have shuffled through your classroom know that.

And that you won’t just be a statistic.

And that you’ll come back.

Because there has never been a better time to have a good teacher. The one with the Birkenstocks. The one whose beauty fills the room. The one whose patience emanates.

One of the best.

Better than the best.

Road Trip 2022, Day Eleven: Cades Cove

a magical place:
the only way to describe
these teenage smiles
even pup loves it 
cycling past wildlife
below the Smokies
where can you see bears
and collect salamanders
under the same sun?
this mountain-framed pic
taken on the same soil
twenty-three years past
we’re fatter, older
while the mountains are hotter;
such is life—sad changes
yet look at our girls
fearlessly taking this on
one moon-wing a time

Road Trip 2022, Day Eleven: Cades Cove

a magical place:
the only way to describe
these teenage smiles
even pup loves it 
cycling past wildlife
below the Smokies
where can you see bears
and collect salamanders
under the same sun?
this mountain-framed pic
taken on the same soil
twenty-three years past
we’re fatter, older
while the mountains are hotter;
such is life—sad changes
yet look at our girls
fearlessly taking this on
one moon-wing a time

Road Trip 2022, Day Ten: Gaps

through Cumberland Gap
we drive down to Tennessee
and stand in three states
it’s been many years
(the gap between visits here)
and everything’s changed
Pappy’s room is new
with the antique furniture
from their grandparents
a whole new kitchen 
to fill Donna’s empty nest
with the light of love
this generation 
will take the time to teach them
and fill in the gaps
they’ll learn who came first,
what they fought for, what they lost;
close gaps, open eyes