Teacher Failure and the Elephant of Wisdom


One of the things we learn at Al Anon meetings is self-compassion. Strangely enough, we do this by listening to each other week after week, non-judgmentally, with a loving smile on our face and hugs after the meeting if we are willing. I can listen almost endlessly to a repeated complaint or story from fellow members with a warm glow of acceptance, but when it comes to listening to myself; impatience, embarrassment, and shame can creep their way in. 


I’m sure that I have repeated myself many times in the last five years and more as I process my time as a teacher. Fellow members heard me agonize for years about my experiences at one of the high schools facing a lot of contention and frustration with antagonistic administration and school district leaders. As a result of their open listening, I was able to find the strength to quit and find a position in a less contentious district. Soon enough, wildfires and Covid doused the partial enthusiasm I had discovered in a wash of apathy and disconnection that washed me up on this current desert island of misfit toys. 


Here I am, a crotchety but good-looking 51 year-old lamenting the state of affairs. To state things ever so mildly, after Covid, many students lack the most basic self-awareness necessary for human interaction. After all the regular and pandemic hopelessness and Zoom, even the best ones really can not buy into the reality that they are in a public space where it is not their God-given right to use their cell-phone, computer, draw, pick apart their fingers, pens, or clothing items whenever they choose. 


I am here to admit to you that I am an adult and veteran teacher who can no longer tolerate the almost universal and constant explicit and implicit message that I am an unwelcome intruder in their space, and how dare I request and enforce that they look me and their companions in the eye, acknowledge each other when we speak, and not forget that fact every five minutes like dementia patients?


This morning, one of my most challenging classes did what they do best and pushed me stereotypically and embarrassingly over the edge.  I should(bullshit alert) be able to handle it, but here on this page, I admit that I can not


For better or worse, I sent three students outside to a metal picnic table outside the classroom after an entire year of utter and complete insanity fit for a Breakfast Club script rewrite. Two of them have D’s, one is getting an A. That one ironically yelled at me in front of the class for five straight minutes at the beginning of the year. Nothing I have done to meet them where they are at, or creating curriculum that is relevant, kind, with lots of space for them to resubmit and change their grade has an effect. I am reduced to tears, anger, and not-so-loving detachment. 


After school, I wrote a poem to process the incident that left me with sore shoulders and a pit in my stomach. This is a message in a bottle, sending out an S.O.S., hoping that someone picks it up off the beach, unrolls the damp scroll to look across the waters and speak out loud to the wind that they understand. 


Teacher Failure and the Elephant of Wisdom



Teacher failure is a hard buzz

straight to the head from three shot glasses

lined up on a metal picnic table outside the



Three beautiful girls, different sizes, grades— A, D, F

so committed to doing whatever the fuck they 

want and so painfully hollow in my chest,

squeezing my neck, my real response


Go for it, I’m done.


I wonder, How did that bench get bent like an elephant sat 

in the middle? I wonder because one appeared to me 

this morning at 5:45 as I took my tender self out to

play with words and pictures in the sacred, dark moments.


A curving line gently traced a tail, a mammoth back,

sloping head and long trunk reaching upward 

to an unseen conversational partner, then ears

and pillared legs firmly grounded, the word 


WISDOM painted on its side. Don’t worry, I’m 

hard to ignore, but also calm, loving, and

powerful too. Are you listening? he asked directly, 

I would rather give you a ride than trample you,

but unable to focus, the squeezing shoulders, blood

rushing, my lungs a shallow pan 

inhospitable to gauzy breath


that sputtered I can’t…..I have never, …..don’t know, what 

can we do? Three shots are a lot, not to mention the 

other seven just inside the door, they mention this

saying, We aren’t the only ones, why us? Of course

they’re right, but how am I still standing? I am


too far gone, three sheets to the wind to chase 

these brilliant balloons, their beautiful young bodies

floating on compassless desire, too light to keep company 

with me or elephants. Around the corner, gray snout

sniffs a secret message


Come with me


I wonder who else hears, but they giggle at

my flustered nonsense, eyes glued on screens

while right behind a moving mountain slowly passes.


No one notices my backwards steps, now I follow


Come with me 




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