Saturday, February 13, 2010

Progress is a new horse.

I'm a teacher. Teachers are supposed to be change agents, that is, we try to get students to change. That's what education is: positive change, improvement. Call it, progress.

But most of us are what I call resistant learners, especially when it comes to trying new ways of doing things, new ways of learning, new processes for progress.

We may be dissatisfied with our rate of improvement, but we like our methods. Our old ways are comfortable, broken in, safe.

So a big part of my job is to entice students to try new ways of doing things: ways that work better than their old ways. It doesn't matter if we're talking about ways to read a book, do long division, or sit at a desk. There are better ways of doing things. Ways that lead to academic progress.

Slow and sure may win the race, but I often work with students who are behind and need to catch up. They need to accelerate their progress. They need help, and often want help. They just don't always want to change.

That's why they need a change agent: a catalyst for improvement.

Recently one of my daily reading groups read a poem by Emily Dickinson. Here it is:

Fame is a bee

Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.

After several minutes of discussion, I was able to help my students reach personal epiphanies: this poem is not mainly about bees. What?!

They made connections: Britney Spears, for example. It was fun to watch.

Several days later I composed a poem in the general style of "Fame is a bee" that captures a lesson I've taught many times this year. My poem is called, "Progress is a new horse." The kids loved it. They applauded. Ah shucks. Here it is:

Progress is a new horse.

On the road of progress,
I find my old horse is dead.
It doesn’t carry me where I want to go.

But I love my old horse.
It’s the way I’ve always done things.
I hate to admit I’m riding a dead horse.

On the road to progress,
New horses are waiting to be ridden,
Horses recommended by previous owners.

Progress is a choice of horses.

* * * *

(Last weekend my wife and I took a weekend trip to a timeshare called San Clemente Inn. We drove down on a Friday and returned on a Monday. I took pictures.)


  1. I enjoyed your poem too. I think it is very helpful to ride a new horse once in a while. It's wonderful that you're encouraging your students to always look for new ways to handle tasks and tackle challenges.

  2. Don! You have become a great (at least very good) poet. I mean that with all my heart.
    I am glad you are devoted to being an agent of change, because a lot of teachers aren't. We have a pretty good set of teachers in Washtucna, but when I was a kid the quality was very mixed. When I was in high school my American History teacher was also the basketball coach and he taught history by showing movies about history, talking about basketball, and flirting with the pretty girls in the class. (He was finally disciplined for going beyond flirting.) My teacher for American Lit, and for Western Civ. taught Western Civ. by reading out of her college textbook. She had a sign over her classroom door that quoted Dante's Inferno: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. She aid it was a joke, but she really taught that way!

  3. I see someone has been showing off their funny bone in my comments section.... ;)

    Do me a favor and tell me if you like any of those Rockwell paintings in particular, okay?

  4. @September: I'm glad you enjoyed the poem. I wrote it to provoke my students to change, but I find that it challenges me as much as them. Go figure.

    @Dennis: Thanks for the compliment. I think each of us have stories of teachers: for better or worse. (And that includes college instructors, who never even have to take a class or how to teach.)

    @Saphron: Thanks for noticing the humor... and I traveled over to give you my pix. ;-)