Thursday, November 28, 2019

Poetry Friday: Ode to my Work

Every year I read Pablo Neruda odes with my eighth graders around Thanksgiving. Here's last year's ode post, with links to other ode posts, and odes, from every year since 2010. Of course, this year I'm teaching my students over the internet because of Haiti's unrest, but that doesn't mean we can't read and write odes. I sent them some links to ode videos on YouTube, like this one:
and this one:

I suggested they choose something to write about that they really, really love. And then I tried to do the same. As I'd advised my students, I made a list of things I was thankful for, things I really, really love. And I kept coming back to teaching, and my job, and, well, them. Those students.

Here's my first draft. Their first drafts are due tomorrow, so I've only read one so far, and I can't wait to read the rest.

Ode to my Work (first draft)

Work to do,
problems to solve,
a place to belong:
my job.

A paycheck is good,
but oh, Work,
you are so much more to me than that.
On days when burning barricades
keep me from you,
how I miss you!

I miss greeting my students,
learning their language,
finding ways to reach them.
I miss the conversation.
I miss the words:
the books we read together,
the mentor texts,
the new vocabulary.

I miss school lunch,
break duty with my whistle hanging around my neck,
meetings with my colleagues,
managing my classroom library.

I miss creating my lesson plans,
planning how I want the time to go.
Of course,
sometimes it doesn’t go
exactly the way I had in mind,
but that’s the best part,
adapting and adjusting,
explaining it a different way,
figuring out how to make it work.

Figuring out how to make it work, Work,
that’s what I love about you.

I miss stepping into my room,
a room to which I have the key,
a room with my name on the door,
a room I set up,
a room with my handwriting on the board,
my fingerprints everywhere.
I miss the me-shaped space.

Ruth, from

When I wrote "I miss the conversation," I meant the literal conversation with my students, but I also meant the Great Conversation, and our little part in it. But of course, that Conversation goes on. I'm inspired by Neruda (by way of Nancie Atwell), and last week my poem about the ovenbird, inspired by the bird itself (by way of Robert Frost) and illustrated by a photo from, inspired Michelle Kogan to create this wonderful picture, which she posted on Facebook one day last week as a greeting to all her friends with a birthday that day (and which she graciously granted me permission to post here, also):

Here's this week's roundup, all the way from Switzerland.


Janice Scully said...

The videos are fabulous. I once tried to write a poem about an onion, so I really appreciate hearing what Neruda has done with that humble veggie. And your poem about teaching--I really felt the longing in the words. Very nice. Thank you.

Cheriee Weichel said...

As a retired teacher I missed those conversations with children and colleagues. Because of a teacher shortage, I now substitute a couple of days a week and get my fix that way. I agree with Janice. The videos are fabulous. I have only written an Ode to a Yellow Succulent. You can read it here is you want.

jama said...

What an inspiring ode. There are many out there who do not enjoy their work as you do. We all benefit from dedicated, loving teachers. Thanks for all you do, especially during these trying times.

Karen Edmisten said...

Ruth, I'll be sharing this ode with my daughter, the 4th-grade teacher. :) I'm so sorry you have to teach over the internet right now, but your ongoing dedication is such an inspiration.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

As I sit at home enjoying my days without school, you make me grateful for that home-from-home, the me-shaped space where I lay my fingerprints on round 4-year-old faces. Thank you for reminding me of that this Work we make work is a blessing. May I share with some colleagues?

Ruth said...

Yes, Heidi! :-)

Linda B said...

I have written odes with my students, too, Ruth, and love your examples. Among other topics, I found that students really loved writing about their personal things, like socks and shoes. I hope you can share some of their poems. I am sorry that you are still at home, yet it feels like something good has come from that, your own ode, to teaching. As Cheriee wrote, those specific things you wrote are things I miss now in retirement. It's lovely, Ruth.

Karen Eastlund said...

Thank you for sharing your poem, Ruth. It is clear that your work is a calling, a labor of love. Your students will remember your dedication.

Sally Murphy said...

Oh Ruth, such longing! Yet at the same time this is a positive poem, celebrating how much teaching means to you. Thank you for sharing, and I hope peace comes again so you can be back in your "me-shaped space".

Mary Lee said...

What an inspiration you are to be fighting so hard to maintain your teaching identity while I'm basking in leaving mine zipped up in my backpack for as long as possible this holiday weekend.

Ruth said...

Mary Lee, absence makes the heart grow fonder!

Buffy Silverman said...

I love that your writing with your students even as your school can't meet--and what a wonderful affirmation to them of how important they are to your life.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Your devotion to what you do is a gift, Ruth— to your students, to your colleagues, and to all of us who read this poem. I hope that you will be sharing this poem with your students. If I was one of them, I would love to know my teacher was this committed to what she does to help me learn and grow.

Bridget Magee said...

Your ode is inspiring, Ruth. I will never take my wool socks for granted again after listening to Neruda's poem as well! I am thankful for your 'me-shaped space' in the Poetry Friday universe. =)

Tabatha said...

Love your Neruda-inspired poem, Ruth. You've left your "fingerprints everywhere" you've, friends, students, the poetic world. Love to see them!

Kay said...

Your ode is a beauty and inspiration. I hope you are able to join in those conversations face to face again soon. Those conversations with my students and colleagues are what I miss from teaching.

michelle kogan said...

And I too love your "Neruda-inspired poem," especially this line, "I miss the me-shaped space." I hope you get to reunite soon in that special space. The Neruda poem videos are wonderful and fanciful, how lucky your students are to have you. Thanks for all and for sharing my ovenbird also!

Sarah SSM said...

Love this...