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

drowning my calendar,

blue dots

covering 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

chase a grade ten


angry faces

push against glass,

she calls for help.

Open the jar.

Pepper chokes


chairs, clocks, and computers…

A toxic shot

in the head.

Later, a fifteen-year-old boy

wears handcuffs

and not the kind from his joke store.

Open the jar.

Racism, bullying, homophobia,

illiteracy, drugs, eating disorders

spiralling around bells

passing days and

heedless years.

Take the lid off the subtext.

Open the jar.

A friend defines “suddenly”

when our student

dies…and then another.

Words evaporate

hearts frozen in crowded hallways.

Open the jar.

Julie whispers of last night’s rape

during attendance

digital now

twenty-first century tracking of


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

she thinks

only yesterday she smoked pot, drank vodka, slept with

Tonya, and cut herself on her left arm for the sixth time.

Jars lined up like child soldiers

down a long corridor of black-hearted

steel lockers collecting

souls. We all felt it

clouds building chains around teen dreams.

Teacher machines

We forgot the taste

of sunshine




lid twisted tight

within the glass grooves.

But in time we learned

to gently turn the lid,

open the jar

and sometimes we found something

for somebody

and in time we learned to capture sunshine.

Open the jar—


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