Honesty & Courage Spiral

A Poem About Teacher Resiliency

There is freedom in a metaphor. I love its openness to possibility.

When creativity flows well writing is as easy as taking the lid off the jar, grasping streams of inspiration as they swirl above, and then sprinkling words onto the page. Sometimes it can feel like confidently singing a song you’ve known for a long time. Often when I write poetry the story appears all at once and catches me by surprise.

Over the years I’ve noticed that I like to write about what I’ve learned. Through the act of writing my learning deepens, my understanding shifts, and my wishes clarify. We can learn from every experience. When we look at things in different ways, we can see differently. When we allow our intuition to guide us and we give permission for the voice deep inside to rise and fill the page, we find our story. We find ourselves. As much as creative expression can offer us soaring freedom it can also offer us deep-rooted connection to our values.

Writing the poem “Open the Jar” transformed my understanding of sunshine in a jar to include gratitude and generosity. I learned that this light isn’t a beacon of happiness but a symbol of hope.

I remember the day I wrote this poem.

When the idea to write the poem appeared I leapt out of my chair, wanting to avoid it. But the idea followed me down the hall. I took a deep breath, returned to the chair, picked up my pen, and wrote a poem about some of my most difficult moments as a young teacher.

There is so much we are not prepared for when we begin our teaching careers. Sometimes we are growing up alongside the students we are teaching. I was in my mid-twenties. My students faced challenges I couldn’t imagine. The students taught me about resiliency, grit, and perseverance through challenge.

I learned the importance of community and building a school culture where all students feel safe.

I learned about the strength of my colleagues and the value of having a mentor.

I learned that by listening to the students we could better identify the issues and work toward change.

I learned how even in the face of challenge and tragedy schools can be models of courage, truth, love, and wisdom.

Open the Jar

Last night I opened the jar and it whispered to me,
“a piece of the story is missing.”
I wished the thought had stayed in the jar,
wished to rewind,
go back to the moment before
I released the latch and
eased the lid. 
Open the jar.
Blue dot days glued to glass,
days of Sylvia’s bell jar and 
cobwebs and fatigue and
frustration and sleep and
tears and
Blue dots
drown my calendar.
Blue dots
cover my day book.
A giant blue bruise.
You should know,
I teach outside the city
in a nice suburban
Open the jar.
A morning swarming at 7:45.
Two hundred teenagers
a Grade 10 girl.
Angry faces push
against glass,
a call for help.
Open the jar.
Pepper spray chokes classrooms,
hallways, staircases, washrooms,
desks, chairs, basketballs, computers… 
A toxic shot.
Then, a fifteen year old boy
wears handcuffs.
Open the jar.
Racism, bullying, homophobia,
illiteracy, drugs, eating disorders
spiral around the bells
marking the passing of the day,
a year. Take the lid off the subtext.
Open the jar.
A friend defines “suddenly”
when our student
Open the jar.
Julie whispers of last night’s rape
during attendance.
Open the jar.
I pass Tina her graded work and
she asks if she should visit her boyfriend,
in jail
even though
he was charged:
attempted murder.
Once upon a time I forgot the taste
of sunshine.
Once upon a time I was so tired
I longed for only sleep.
My jar was empty.
My jar was closed,
the lid twisted tight
within the glass grooves.
I gently turn the lid,
open the jar
and sometimes
I capture sunshine.

© Jessica Outram


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