Note: This poem is from 2008 – at Teachers College our English Professor wanted us to write an essay which outlined our “Philosophy of English” and how it might have changed over the year with us having had some actual experience in a classroom. Quite brilliantly though, she said that we could present our “essay” in whatever form we wanted – be it a written essay, a poem, a play, a performance – as long as we were using English as a medium, it was ok. I was a bit stuck for time, and for a joke while I was working a shift at a restaurant started to try and belt out a poem in my head. This is it, and it was very close to being called “The Rhyme of the Ancient Pedagogue” – it was a huge amount of fun to write by the end.
The Builder of Minds: A Philosophy
So there he was, a likely lad
Full of vigour and dreams from the teachings he’d had.
18 years old and so self assured
Armed only with wits, and a deep love of words
So off he did trek, down life’s winding road
Searching for truth while bearing his load
A quest; for a place where his passions might fit
Instead he enrolled for a B.A at Vic.
At first he enjoyed it, his intellectual stink;
The women were nice, and so was the drink
The format was simple – just write what they want
3000 words in Times New Roman font.
At some point he noticed the challenge he faced
His word-smithery was fading – which drinking replaced;
His words became blurry, and he just could not see
His life at a desk analyzing social policy
But how to align these two different things?
His passions combined with the future it brings?
Spat out the back end of a three year degree
He found refuge from dreams; in hospitality.
So there he did wait ‘till his calling was heard,
Like gloves without hands, a nestless bird;
Still trekking along, though now less self assured
Armed only with wits and a deep love of words…
Epiphany strikes swiftly much like Russian Flu,
A bolt in the night, right out of the blue!
He awoke in a sweat, wide-eyed, and rejoiced:
“Becoming a teacher! That’s my perfect choice!”
“The students are searching, much like I do;
A higher vocation! Good holidays too!
I’d be like a builder, but constructing … minds!
With words as my hammer!” – his answer he finds…
He signs up that instant without hesitation.
He meets like-minded souls of good reputation
In the February intake for Secondary Schools.
But he begins to notice that with teaching comes rules.
“The subject of English”, he quickly summates,
“Is not much like History – all heated debates
Not much like Maths either – with tables and charts
Or Science or P.E or Technology or Arts”
“The fundamental nature”, for what he could see
“Is the expression of self, be it in poetry
Or in writing and film, drama or speech
The expression of “soul” is the aim that we teach”
“Combined with this, but of equal import;
Appreciation of other peoples’ expressions of thought.
For when others create so to do we learn
To relate with the world, and what makes it turn.”
“To listen to stories, to learn how to speak,
To express through our words; yes, that’s what we seek,
To read and to write of fantastical things
Is to make sense of ourselves; and the meaning it brings”
With these thoughts and opinions he went out to teach
To schools he never imagined he’d reach
Armed just with his wits, and a deep love of words
And a purpose; to which his ambition now served.
He entered the classroom with full throttled verve,
Within just an instant he had lost all his nerve.
For the ‘Builder of Minds’ had just never thought
That these were real people that had to be taught.
He screamed to himself, “These students are real!
They are living and breathing and staring at me!!!”
For this fact he had obviously just not prepared
He felt so alone, and in truth, he was scared!
And he asked them “How many of you will concur
That English is cool” – he expected a “Chur!!”
Instead he was met with sustained disbelief
And cussing and swearing, great gnashing of teeth.
“So what do you like?” he appropriately asked
The general reply: “Not much in this class!
It’s always so boring, confusing and ‘stink’
It does not excite us; nor make us think”
He was stunned…
He gained his composure and looked to the skies
He sucked up his courage and wit … then replied –
With a torrent of passion (Must have been heaven sent,
Enthusiasm of this power would never relent).
Thus the torrent spewed forth like a thunderous roar!
And swept up their attention like no-one before!
Like moths to a fire, their eyes would not sway!
From the passion and language that was shared on that day!
He ranted and raved of words, people, stories;
He told tales of such greatness, old battles, past glories;
He told them how they could be part of it too;
An “expression of self” is not so hard to do…
They sat and listened…
Alas! Woe is me! Calamitous doom!
A bell broke the silence, and shattered the room!
One by one they filed out, all tucked in line
“Chur Sir”, said one, “see you next time!”.
And the next day they came, they sat and they listened,
They started to create their own stories that glistened
With passion and words; triumphs and glories;
People and places and moments and stories…
And at this point we’ll leave them, the message is clear:
Enthusiasm will get you almost anywhere
The expression of self is surely to live
To share that with others you most generously give.
And though you mightn’t have much, as you start on your road
So much can be learnt whilst you carry your load;
Though you will need some luck – when the penny does fall –
… Wits matched with words are the best weapon of all.