Poet Mekeel McBride‘s poem provides a useful prompt for teachers to reflect on the underlying tensions in their classroom that might be fertile ground for healthy reflection and change.
“Autobiography’s Inspiration” is especially useful for literacy coaches to read aloud with a group of teachers, or with teacher-research support groups, followed by time to write for 5 to 7 minutes on “what’s coming apart so it can come back together.”
Begins with the wishbone of a chicken hung with thread
to dry in the kitchen. For weeks, it develops the invisible
flesh of wish and desire. Sways, little divining rod, over
the woman washing dishes, chopping onions, rinsing
garden earth from her hands. When it is finally dry, it will weigh scarcely more than petals, drifted loose, from peonies
on the kitchen table. Because the woman is alone, she must name one wish for her right hand, another for the left, then split the fragile bone to see which of the desires overrides.
It is one of the conditions of inspiration that things must
come apart before they can be put back together.
I read the poem, and then share this prompt:
What’s coming apart in your classroom, research, or teaching . . . so it can come back together?
At a recent gathering with kindergarten through high school language arts teachers, I gave it a try, and we unearthed a range of tensions, along with possible “next steps.”
Middle-school teacher Lisa realized that her tension was around her writing instruction:
“My writing program is coming apart. I used to teach sentence structure, good leads, paragraphing, and more as individual pieces that were then put together to create a nice piece of writing. I’m wanting to change this. It doesn’t seem to be working, so what will? I’ve started with just getting words on paper . . .”
Brittany also found a tension in her literacy program:
“My ideas about how spelling is taught have really been turned upside down. I loved spelling as a kid, mostly because I am very visual and spelling is like putting together a puzzle for me. I loved working through my spelling lists and it’s kind of hard for me to embrace new ideas for spelling. But when I see how kids struggle with spelling, I see my program coming apart. There must be more helpful ways to approach spelling instruction. I’m finding great ideas for a new way — and I’m going to pick up the pieces and refashion them into something useful for me and the kids.”
Lisa and Brittany have found a focus for their next steps, tensions worth pursuing as they see what happens in their classrooms — paying attention to what they’ve uncovered and started to think about.
We shared our quick-writes with partners and found support and fresh ideas to help keep us going. Whether the tensions related to struggles with a colleague, frustrations with too much time on standardized testing, or issues with individual students, our group appreciated the chance to clear the air by looking at what was coming apart . . . so it could come back together in new ways.