Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Post Marathon Wrap

Yesterday was an amazing day for poetry. I accomplished my "marathon" reading at our library: 8 hours nonstop. I was fortunate to have great support by the library who put up signs, allowed me to inhabit the fireplace room (reading room) and generally direct people to me. There were requests for specific poems to be read by random visitors to the library, including two young girls (probably aged 10 or 11) who brought me poetry books and asked for specific poems. I also met a woman who brought me the works of Anna Emma Coughlin to read. This poet (Coughlin) was a beloved teacher in Rockland (Maine) in the 20s and 30s. Her poems are lovely. Our local high school principal sent a student emissary to deliver a book of poetry by his mother (the principal's mother). Her poems are great and I can't wait to meet her. Another person (thanks Tessie) requested I read the traditional waiting for Santa story/poem (The Night Before Christmas). It was fun to do that. All in all, it was a great day for poetry and for Rockland. I must thank too the graciousness of Dagney Ernest who reported on the story of my marathon (Going Long on he Shortest Day) in the local papers. She is very supportive of what I am doing as Poet Laureate. Thanks, Dagney for coming on your day off to do the photo shoot at the library!


At 930, the librarian rang a little bell for a moment of silence for the victims of the horrid tragic shootings in CT. I observed that silence and read in a barely discernible whisper. Immediately afterward, I read aloud those two poems which were written specifically about the shootings, one by me (Lessons From First Grade) and another by our previous Poet Laureate, Kendall Merriam (Agony: a Prayer for the Children, Parents, Teachers).

What about bathroom breaks? you may ask. I was fortunate to have people spell me for that necessity. They had to read in my place while I handled the situation. I had a lobster roll for lunch brought in by my husband (who stayed most of the day and hauled in and out my bags of books and shoes - 5 pairs of sparkly shoes in black, silver, and purple). Another person (thanks Margie!) brought me chocolate-dipped strawberries as a treat and my neighbor brought me throat drops to keep my mouth moist. I never did lose my voice! I was definitely a little raspy by 430 but...

I might mention here, in keeping with the contemporary scene, that I read using multiple methods: from printed papers, from hand-written papers, from books, and from my iPad. Here is s short list of poets I read:

Dana Gioia, BH Fairchild, Seamus Heaney, Millay, Bishop, Michael Dennis Browne, Jennifer MacPherson, Elizabeth Garber, Jacob Fricke, Elizabeth Tibbetts, Larry Kramer, Kristin Lindquist, Auden, Plath, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, Kathleen Ellis, Gayle Portnow, Wendy Rapaport, and many many many more. I discovered new poems by some of these, and enjoyed returning to poems I have long loved. I began and ended the day with sonnets. Seems only right.

When I got home my hubby made dinner and I retired early. What a good night's sleep I got!

So what is next for this Action Figure Poet Laureate?

I hereby declare January to be RAP Month in Rockland and beyond...

no! not THAT kind of RAP... I am referring to Random Acts of Poetry. I will start things by delivering a "money poem" to local banks on January 2nd when they re-open after the holidays. I encourage poets and lovers of poetry to accomplish some random acts throughout January and to report to me the who what where and when of it. I'll post the "acts" here on my blog in early February.

Also, I invite poets and lovers to an upcoming event in February (exact date and place and time TBA): a Sweetheart Poetry Tea. Poets and lovers will read poems of love and devotion to and about their sweethearts. Valentine cookies and tea will be served and the mood will be romantic. This will be a way to focus on love in a world so seemingly over-focused on everything else.

So, watch FB and this blogspot and my author page: for details.

That's it for now... time to decorate the Christmas tree and so some wRAPping.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Merit Pay, or let's belittle teachers AGAIN

I am a teacher, by profession and nature. My husband too, and our eldest daughter and our daughter-in-law. But this post is not about us. It is about what is happening to teachers across this nation and this state. There is a piece of legislation up for consideration in Maine and other states (being rammed through?) that would tie as much as 25% of teachers' pay to high-stakes testing (called "student outcome" by our DOE commissioner and others).  It is at times like this when I begin to wonder if there is any logic left. By the way, I see no "bonuses" in the proposed rule, like so many dollars extra if students get so many points on these hideous tests that drive everyone crazy other than bureaucrats.

I would begin here by asking a simple series of questions:

Do doctors get paid based on "patient outcomes"? READ: lab test results for example. (If a patient gets sick do they get their pay docked?)
Do firefighters get paid based upon the numbers of fires they stop before any loss is incurred? (Do they have pay docked when a building or field burns?)
Do cops get paid based upon the numbers of criminals who do not commit crimes? (Are they docked pay when a criminal commits a crime?)

I could go on.

NO. All these people who are professionals get paid based upon negotiated salaries or costs or prices.  We are their fellow citizens and we pay for their services with our taxes and our moneys. We expect them to do their best, but do not expect them to be monetarily evaluated. Why then would we even CONSIDER merit pay for teachers? Parents send their precious children to these hard-wrking professionals for 8 hours a day — to care for them, instruct them, mold their characters, inspire them, assist them in developing thinking and reasoning skills, prepare them for the working world, and would take a bullet for each and every one of them (lest you forget, think of Newtown CT). But we are going to get punitive with their paychecks because of test scores?  No student or family is a consumer of education. Education is a process: of learning to think and learning to improve the mind and society. We don't have a business here, we have a system of education.

The "what is wrong" is not at all the "fault" of teachers. Teachers have to teach in an antiquated system,  a system that was developed and has persisted since the 1890s. Admittedly it has become quite the bureaucracy. That is a problem. But the problem lies within the system itself. Docking teachers' paychecks will not fix the systemic problem, the ingrained foolishness of not updating the system itself. Inserting punitive "merit" pay into this system that is so filled with error already would be the height of error. And unless every teacher has the right to expect bonuses equal to or higher than CEOs of companies, we must stop this ridiculous plan for "de-merit" pay. And unless we put education back into its rightful place of honor and respect, we are going to stay foolish and stay in the blame game.

Yes, there are teachers who are not living up to the title of "teacher" by being stuck in an old groove, not moving forward with the latest and greatest techniques or technologies. There are teachers who are burned out and ready to stop teaching. There is a way for that to get solved. But punishing teachers everywhere for the few who are deficient is a mistake. Would any of us wish to be punished for the shortcomings of others? Would we want to be disparaged for the faults of others? I think not. So why are we so willing to lay the blame and levy punishment on teachers who have done nothing to deserve it? Truly this baffles me. This kind of thing exists nowhere else in our society.

STOP the madness. Oppose any and all efforts to put into place any sort of meritocracy in our school systems.

Education ought to be our top priority in this country and in this state. We ought to pay teachers what Wall Street gets paid, with all the perks they get. But we choose instead to vilify and punish them. Wrong, just wrong.