'Who Will Clean Out The Desks' — A crowdsourced poem in praise of teachers
As part of teacher appreciation month, Morning Edition asked NPR's audience to write a poem about teachers who have had an impact on their lives.
We put out this call a week before the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, so the majority of contributors are not reflecting on that horrific day but a late addition did reflect that loss.
We received over 300 responses, and NPR's poet in residence Kwame Alexander took lines from submissions to create a community poem.
This poem is dedicated to all teachers, but especially to Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, fourth grade teachers who lost their lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
Who Will Clean Out The Desks
Teachers make a dent.
A soft curve in the gray matter
A crevice where light shines in
a seed to germinate.
They open eyes
kick open Imagination
Make us see
encourage change of mind
and change of heart
NOT to force the walking of a single path
But the revelation of many.
Teachers make and shape
They weave through the constraints on their vision
creating and molding the students.
Teachers conquer hate and foster expectation
teachers make light go
where darkness has resided
make chrysanthemums of wildflower seeds,
tall stems and fragile blossoms exploding in their reach.
They make statements that linger long after the lessons have been absorbed. Like Mrs. Tucker who wrote, "Amy is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day" on my first-grade report card,
Teachers bring forth dreamers and thinkers.
They make us Stretch
make us Wake up
Make us Realize compassion
Make us feel
Make us Cry
Make us Laugh
make us understand our Connection
make us grateful.
This is for Mr. Wilke
who taught Vocational Electronics
at Romeo High School in Michigan.
He helped make a creative mind
Crafted, molded and helped find
New interests and ideas, refined
To create new words, undefined.
Trips like Sisyphus each year,
Another journey up the hill,
Another class to teach,
Another state test to endure and stress over,
Another prom, graduation, homecoming,
Another break to look forward to.
Teachers are there despite it all
Even when the world makes you feel small.
Mrs. Hunney didn't do it for the money.
She saw I had potential,
even with dyslexia I could be Presidential.
You see, Teachers make bad days into good
Make the journey as meaningful as the destination
Make reading rewarding
make good trouble.
Teachers make decisions.
Around 1,500 per day.
What to say, how to say it, and when
Teachers make love
out of everything.
Teachers make me feel like I am special
like I am safe
Teachers make Sense
Of a jumble of eighth notes and
Then quarter notes
And a smear of dark chords
They make music.
On the day that he died, not just me but the whole school cried, " he's the reason I graduated" " he's the reason I ate lunch" "When my own dad ran out, he helped me so much" They'd honk as they passed by our house day and night , a constant reminder of his touch on their life
A teacher is nothing without a student
As is a farmer without a field
A mind rich with knowledge
A teacher is nothing when stripped of their power
As is a train when emptied of fuel
Censored and idle
We are here because teachers make students
From saplings to majestic Trees of potential.
They make us whole.
They make impressions
subtle hands that make themselves available
to guide us on this trail of woe
Teachers leave the door open for us to walk through
but when the last bell rings
when the classroom is locked down
who will clean out all the desks?
The math worksheets
The missing LEGO,
the one goldfish cracker
the paper clips and crumpled post-its that say "I love you!"
the Pencil boxes and old erasers,
the one Pokemon card (Cramorant)
the empty glue stick,
the dusty Harry Potter mask.
the dirt-smudged backpacks?
At the end of the day
Who will help the teachers prepare for the next
Who will make a home for the heavy hearts,
for The sacred ones who can't stop thinking about those 19 desks,
those 19 backpacks
those 19 summer vacations,
those 19 new pairs of sandals.
those 19 next school years and school years after that
and after that and after that.
Teachers don't let us give up on the words
They help us find them
They help us find ourselves
Just breathe and keep being kind to children
is their mantra –
Who will hold them in kind and caring arms
when the world is not so beautiful
when the summer burns red
when there are no more children
to be kind to.
I say, Let it be us.
Because teachers matter.
This community poem was created using submissions by:
Meg Frost, Mapleton, UT
Patricia Stevenson, Shaker Heights, OH
Matthew Monte, Houghton, MI
James From, Dunwoody, GA
Amy Walter-Peterson, Victor, NY
Ben Ark, Louisville, KY
Alexander Simanovsky, Charleston, SC
Lacey Reach, Macon, GA
Sarah Colerick, Seattle, WA
Carol Sadewasser, Parma, OH
John Douglas, Saint Louis, MO
Eileen Hennessy, Joelton, TN
Aaron Bowen, Morristown, TN
Shelley Sollars, Bloomfield, MI
Ron Meyers, New York, NY
Bhavya Reddy, Green Brook NJ
Maddie Radcliff, Omaha, NE
John Linder, Jr, Brooklyn, NY
Tim Josephs, Greensboro, NC
Karen Sherlock, Boulder, CO
Jeet Chadha, Saint Louis, MO
Beverly Peterson, Williamsburg, VA
Robert Warden, Bryan, TX
Chelsea Quam, Sonora, CA
Matthew Friday, Bend, OR
Marina Roytman, Fresno, CA
Morgan Deane, Outer Banks NC
George Asdel, Atascadero, CA
Sonya Jaworski, St Paul, MN
Cheryl WhiteDear, Peabody, MA
Sarah Kirn, Cumberland, ME
Richard Taylor-Kenny, Sherwood, OR
Jen Nails, Las Vegas, NV
Jeevika Verma and Reena Advani produced and edited the audio story. Reena Advani and Rina Torchinsky adapted it for the web.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.