Teacher, What Would You Rather Be?

What metaphors do you think of to illustrate a teacher’s job? I recently came to see my teacher-self as a doorkeeper.

A doorkeeper gives entrance, opens doors, to what lies inside. What lies inside is desirable, even splendid, enough that there is a door in front of it. All splendid objects lie behind doors. One does not wander in and handle a relic like produce at an open market. There’s a door. And there’s a keeper.

Students then are knockers. As such they must themselves knock and walk through the door. Whether they know to value what’s inside or not, they have to summon the courage to knock and the resolve to walk in and take up the values of those already inside. The keeper does not do any of this for them. Perhaps the keeper models by her very presence at the door the abiding preciousness of what is inside. But the keeper only opens. And then perhaps takes the knocker’s hand and says, “Look!” 

Maybe a doorkeeper does a little more than this. There is the word ‘overqualified,’ and perhaps an experienced teacher might be called overqualified to be a mere doorkeeper. But who better than a master of the treasures inside could so deftly make a door attractive? Who better than a friend of the owner could convince busy people, young or old, to pause and consider that what’s inside is worth their time? 

Have you ever made a list of desirable attributes in a doorkeeper? I haven’t. If I were hiring a doorkeeper, what adjectives would I look for? Alert. Eager. Sensitive. Unprejudiced. Listening. Glad. Strong. Passionate. Prompt. Expert. Active.  And attributes I would avoid in a doorkeeper? Pushy. Selective. Wheedling. Bribable. Arrogant. Lazy. Nonchalant. Unaware that though he is a keeper of this particular door, he is a knocker himself at many others. If I am applying to be a doorkeeper, this list is an interesting self-analysis. And if I want to be a teacher, a good teacher, then this list is a thought-provoking twist on the usual items on a resumé. *As an English teacher, I cannot help picturing, and laughing at, the bawdy, hungover doorkeeper in Macbeth 🙂 

This morning, I ran across this verse, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84: 10.

 I would rather be a doorkeeper. 

Discussion Questions: (I would love to hear your thoughts!)

How, or would, you tweak this metaphor for elementary, middle, high school, college, or adult students? Special needs students?

As phrased above, the doorkeeper gives entrance, that is, the doorkeeper does not block entrance or select who enters. The job is opening, not guarding. Do you agree? Disagree?

Ponder the phrase from above: ‘ . . .and take up the values of those already inside.’ What are some of those universal values? Specific values? Unifying values?

What attributes would you add to the lists of desirable and undesirable doorkeeper qualities?

Explore the idea that every doorkeeper is also a knocker.

How broadly can this metaphor be stretched? Could it apply to anything from children’s Sunday school to workplace meetings to lectures and even to instructional writing?

Is a doorkeeper still necessary in this day of ‘everything at our fingertips’ internet access? If so, what exactly does a doorkeeper do that the knocker can’t do on his or her own?

Is there really a door? If so, what constitutes the door? How does this idea of a door resonate in our current era?

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A Teacher’s Reward (And A First Attempt At Rap)

Wearing my Madewells
Trying to stay well,
I know I’m paid well;
These kids behave well.
I make their brains swell,
That’s what their grades tell.

But that’s not all,
Sweet babies hearts are tall.

In their faces
A world of patience,
And expectation.
I’ll sit beside them,
Point, and guide them,
“That’s where we’re going.
Fast or slowing,
I’m going with you,
Make sure you get through.”

But that’s not all,
Sweet babies, you won’t fall!

Think all you’re learning,
As earth is turning,
And every sunrise
Broadens your eyes,
Now you can say that
North is that way,
You did not know that
Yesterday.

And that’s not all.
Keep going, that’s not all.

You don’t believe me,
But I’m here already.
In tomorrow
There is a hollow,
A seat with your name,
A need for your flame.
You will be perfect!
No one else fits it;

World’s not right ’til you’re in it.

Ode To A Different Kind Of July

Usually this month, I am weeping the
Teacher’s Lament
Late-July tears over the weight
Of an entire school year looming
Plus my own kids’ growings and
Goings. I think if I dig my
Heels into the floor, could I stop the
Rotation of the Earth?

But not this July!
(Insert emojis of me
Cha-cha-ing in a pancho and
Sombrero) I hung up my
School teacher shoes and
Opened an Airbnb in our modest
Little Rancher. And now . . .

For two-plus decades I haven’t
Dabbled.
I’ve grappled.
I’ve been in the life-or-death
Grapple of time versus
Children versus budget versus
Ought versus keen love versus school calendar
Versus me.

But now I can Dabble.
Today, for instance, I
Opened a bag of quilt blocks
Purchased at an antique store in
Swannanoa, North Carolina.

A few minutes studying the blocks
Laid out on our bed showed me
That my new task was
Metaphorical.
The ‘how’ and the
‘When’
Are the same:

Around the Edges.

I sew around the edges of life,
Around the edges of running a life –
Inn-keeping, Mama-loving, ACT Prepping –
And
I sew around the edges of
The pot and stem and three
Hexagonal flowers designed,
But never finished,
By an Appalachian mystery woman.

Big muslin block
By big muslin block,
They tell her tale:

Auntie prepared them.
To be sewn around the edges.
And then, for some reason,
She abandoned her careful
Design and tiny stitches and
Lovely colors of hope and
Symmetry, of yellow calico pots
And funfetti flowers.
She just quit.
And of course we knew why,
The way of all flesh. The world lost
A quilt when she died.

A niece took a stab
In one block at
Carrying on Auntie’s vision.
But she was impulsive,
A Facebook scroller.
She didn’t notice
Details.
She didn’t see that Auntie’s top
Flower was solid
With a busy-print center.
And the two lower blooms
Were
Opposite –
Busy-print with a solid center.
She didn’t notice, you see.
She was in a hurry.

So I will notice. I will notice,
In the blocks, Niecey
Not noticing. And I will notice
The importance of noticing.
But I will fail too. I will not notice
Auntie’s green thread and will
Laboriously stitch with white.

Are Niecey’s deviations
And mine part of the final quilt’s
Grand story of three women and their
Artistic and contextual convergences?
‘Psshh,’
Says Auntie from
The sewing corner, the
One light corner, of her home in the
Pisgah, ‘Look at it. Get it right!’

So I will learn an appliqué stitch,
Via YouTube,
And will stitch more big
Muslin blocks of stems and
Hexagonal flowers. I will
Slow
Down
And notice Auntie’s stitches and
Plans.
And I will
Honor them. It will seem
Unimportant,
But it will be a song crafted
With a needle, as all quilts are:
‘Death, where is your sting?’

And when Auntie’s work is finished,
I will put it on our bed, our big
Happy, empty-nest, inn-keeping
Mama-loving, July-singing
Bed.

Christmas Break And The School Teacher – A Retrospective

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In December teachers are hurled from the runaway semester train amid exams and parties and candy and sentiment and urgency and carols, into the longed-for Christmas break where they don’t know who they are.  Here are some conversations between me and myself that occurred while in that dreamlike state from December 25 to January 2:

“Well, we’ll have to take the car in tomorrow then. Wait, what is today? Christmas or Tuesday?”

*As I change out the tea lights again,  Me:  “Half the pressure is having to create the magic for three solid weeks, you know.”

*Feeling of lethargy,  Me: “Am I getting sick? I think I’m getting sick!” *panic, squeeze every orange and grapefruit in the house and contemplate the lemons and limes.

“I probably should do some thank-you notes.” “Uhhh, yeah.” (stares at ceiling for 30 minutes)

*Awake, but haven’t opened eyes yet,  Me:  “Who is here right now? I have no idea.”

“Today, I take down the tree.”. . .four days later . . . “Today, I’ll at least bring the bins in.”

“Ok, who needs what?”

“I’m back from Walmart! Who missed me?”

“Tonight is every man for his or her respective self.”

*Front door opens,   Me (without knowing who it is or if I know them): “What do you want to eat?”

*Tiny sliver of time when all chicks are in nest,  Me: “Hmmm. This must be what heaven will feel like.”

*Facebook feed, Me: “Everyone seems to be out making family memories. I’m just reading this book about the guy that started Fame recording studio over in Muscle Shoals. And my feet are cold. Conclusion: Happy Facebook People all have warm feet.”

“Bring out your dead!” *Me calling for a massive ingathering of the cups, bowls, plates, glasses, mugs, forks, platters, jugs, bags, sacks, wrappers, sleeves, cans, and bottles that have piled up in the kids’ bedrooms.

*Son (age 19, still in bed at 12:34 pm) “I just can’t get my sleep cycle back on track.” Me: “I think your strategy is flawed.”

Me: “You know those days that you hit the ground running and around 10:00 pm as you fold a load of gnarly dishcloths you realize you haven’t quit moving the whole day? Well, today wasn’t one of those days.”

*Me driving out the driveway to meet someone at 3:30 and trying to get into ‘intellectual meeting’ mindset:  “Is this my street?  It looks like jello.”

*Driving through town on Highway 31,  Me: “Hey, there’s a lawyer. He seems to be working. People are doing that right now?”

*Standing in the driveway saying goodbye to one of the kids, Me:  “See you in two days.  Be careful and text me when you get there.”   Minutes later, still in driveway greeting the next college kid arriving with fiance, “Hiiiiiiii!!!!!”

Sheets and towels.  Sheets and towels.  Sheets and towels. And I love it.

And then, the day comes when we re-enter the classroom to the faces of our student-cherubs and a new semester of study opens before us.

Oh, the blessing!

Happy New Year!

~

Ode To August And An Incoming Class

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In August, I watch
Tall children-students flower right in front of me.
And it is marvelous. A late-summer garden,
Juniors walk in and blossom into seniors as I hand them a syllabus.

Mysteriously, gracefully, they step right in
To the gap left in May
By a group that seemed irreplaceable, and certainly was so.
But this new class has its own feel,
Its own paths to tread of the infinite number possible
From a single starting point – like Beowulf.

So they pick different flowers on their own path,
Similar species picked by those May graduates, but a crimson sunflower,
Or a zinnia bent on proving that we underestimate zinnias, which we do.
Different flowers from the same story. And I am reminded
God’s good earth is inexhaustible.

And they learn to listen; and they do listen.
They talk of last year’s storytellers and their stories.
And I can’t be impatient with them
Because they are never impatient with me,
“It has to go through the app, Mrs. Sieg. See that blue square?”
We’ve come full circle; Mrs. Smith taught them blue squares
On their K5 carpet squares,
And now they teach me.
And they notice my new shoes and that I wore my hair up today.
And they ask questions bigger than one answer,
‘Why?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’
I walk up to the question in my new shoes and give it what I know
And hope it’s a beginning for them.

They are held together by their age, their moment,
This year’s variety,
But they welcome me to listen.
I love their words – the forming words they put on the trends of the minute.
I borrow their energy, their foreverness.

It is August. August is possibility.

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Annual Pictures At The Green Door