Friday Nov 17

Hoppenthaler Year5b So, what can I do for my students? I can be present. I can give them my full attention and help them find strength in themselves. Attention is a kind of light in this world. Really the only kind. –Nicole Stellon O’Donnell

School has begun here in North Carolina. I’ve been thinking about teaching, a thing I’ve done for more than thirty years. I’ve been thinking about its great value and about how hard it is to do well. I’ve been thinking about—especially these recent days—how little appreciated teachers are in our culture. By politicians, by some parents, by school boards. I’ve been thinking about how poorly most teachers are paid, and how much of themselves they’re asked to give. My wife, a high school teacher, has already spent hundreds of our salary dollars on things for her new classroom. She will not be reimbursed.

I’ve been thinking about those poets and other creative writing teachers who don’t hold forth in the most visible MFA Programs, those poets who work deep in the workaday trenches and facilitate the growth of those students who probably would not be considered at Iowa or Houston, who might not even be considered for admission to any decent MFA Program, students who often don’t even want to study at the MFA level. 

I’m thinking about those poets who teach at schools that offer only the MA in Creative Writing. I’m thinking about folks who spend their teaching careers at small colleges that don’t even offer graduate degrees. I’m thinking about educators like my first poetry teachers, Dan Masterson and John Allman, who make a career of teaching at community colleges. And I’m thinking about those poets, like Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, who teach creative writing at high schools and detention centers, or at hospitals, penitentiaries, or summer camps. 

These are the unsung heroes of American Literature. These are the folks that most often instill the love for writing and reading that so many of us would not have otherwise found. God knows, we need more of them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you good people for doing this work that matters.