On Teaching

Poems by a Teacher


It walks with her to school,
floating on a pool
of rainbow oil along the gutter floor.

It darkens chain-link lace,
foreshadowing the face
of someone sleeping by a boarded door.

It slides past broken panes,
and crawls across four lanes
of careless traffic on the boulevard,

then jumps a steaming grate,
and slips in through the gate
to mingle with the others on the yard.


“After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches,
I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt.”

                — John Taylor Gatto, Against School

Genius is as common as dirt.
It comes before us every day:
little Shakespeares conjuring worlds
with words that we no longer say
as forcefully and carelessly
as they do. Playing on the yard,
and digging in the concrete cracks,
they find the pebble or the shard
that only their intent makes rare,
the way distraction makes them free.
And if their will to play could mend
our broken will to let them be,
we wouldn’t have them stand in lines
again, or have them sit in squares
with crisscrossed legs on checkered rugs,
or turn their searching eyes to stares.


the first day of school

Grow flowers from a concrete bed,
cross bridges through a door;
invent again the words you’ve said
uncounted times before;
paint windows on a solid wall
to let the air flow in;
gather the chips where they may fall
and bet them all to win.


The district needs the space for cubicles —
they’ll park their cars where children used to play.

The classrooms will be gutted and rebuilt,
the backstop, slide, and monkey bars will stay;

the rain will turn the garden plot to silt,
the sun will cause the murals to decay;

meanwhile, canvas swings will sag and fray
unused, unless the wind brings ghosts to play.

These poems appeared in The Wild Geography of Misplaced Things (White Violet Press, 2013). “District Annex” originally appeared in Occupoetry.

David Rosenthal

David Rosenthal lives in Berkeley, California, and works as a teacher and instructional coach in the Oakland Unified School District. His poems have appeared in print and online in Rattle, Birmingham Poetry Review, Measure, Raintown Review, The Formalist, Modern Haiku, The Lyric, Unsplendid, Lilliput Review, Umbrella, and other journals. His book, The Wild Geography of Misplaced Things, was a semi-finalist for both the Richard Wilbur Poetry Award and the Donald Justice Poetry Prize. Rosenthal has been a Pushcart Prize Nominee and a Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award finalist.