New for 2004
The Book of Poems
teacher in a Santa Fe elementary school received a little book of
poems in her mail one day. Sent to her home, the book was not issued
by a large-or even a small-publishing company. Instead
it was one of a kind, handmade. The six-inch-tall, four-inch-wide
cover was made of blue construction paper. The dozen white pages
inside were cut from a loose-leaf notebook. The 12 short poems in
the book had been written and illustrated in small, neat pencil
strokes, by one of the teachers former pupils, a girl who
will be called Rachel in this story.
sitting at your desk
listening to the rustle
Yet when Rachel
first came into the teachers class, school had meant none
of those things. The little girl and the teacher entered each others
lives when Rachel was a fourth-grader-a fourth-grader with
problems. Partly deaf since early childhood, Rachel could by then
follow what was going on in class through the use of a strong hearing
aid, which brought sounds up to a nearly normal range. But the years
she had spent in the hushed world that she had known had left her
reclusive, withdrawn. In addition, Rachel stood out from the other
fourth-graders because she was tall and skinny, and could not catch
a ball on the playground. She was the only child in the class who
had red hair.
brightening the worlds surface,
cheering a sad person.
a very bright child, however, and early in her life she had found
refuge in books. In the tales they told she could do almost anything.
In books she had dozens of friends. In books she had no handicaps.
At school Rachel liked to turn off her hearing aid and sit quietly
in the back of the room, escaping into the realm of books while
her classmates did other things. When she read she was happy. But
when a teacher tried to pull her back into the classroom, she was
not happy at all.
Then she would
fly into a rage, venting such fury that the other kids would stop
whatever they were doing, and stare at her with open mouths. After
Rachels outbursts, a long time would pass before the class
settled down again. And so, most of her teachers had just left her
alone to read. At least then she was not holding back everyone else.
if you had your own way
What would you say?
on a whale
and go to a garage sale.
Listen to an owl
imitate a wolfs howl
at Lake Powell.
And chase a goon
up to the moon
to never go to a lagoon!
reputation had preceded her into the fourth grade. Both the teacher
and her principal were worried about the effect she might have on
the class. There was talk of taking her out of the regular schools
and placing her in a small Behavioral Disorder class, for violent
and disruptive children. But Rachels parents begged the teacher
not to give up on their daughter. They wanted her to have a normal
childhood, and they vowed to do anything they could do to help.
They were determined not to fail, no matter what it took.
tree is wisdom.
They stand for centuries.
They know everything,
they quietly watch
and learn and learn.
They will never tell what they know;
which is lots.
So the teacher
decided to do her best with Rachel. When she saw the little girl
slipping away into one of her books, she made her cme back into
the lesson at hand. Rachel was willful and stubborn. Rachel would
scream and shout I wont do this! Rachel would
hurl her books off her desk. She would fly out of control three
or four times a week. But the teacher was patient. No matter how
many times Rachel exploded, the teacher would wait her out, and
let her know she was not going to get away with it. Yet Rachel had
always gotten away with it before. Rachel did not like what was
happening, did not like it at all.
eagle fly . .
two months the outbursts became less frequent. Then Rachel slowly
began to take part in the class. She showed signs of motivation,
started acting like an ordinary, interested student. Or maybe more
than ordinary, for she had read so much that there was hardly any
subject to which she could not contribute a great deal.
They give beautiful colors.
Roses are divine.
Yet the other
children did not know what to make of the changes in Rachel. Her
tantrums had made them frightened of her. They kept their distance,
and thought she was weird. They looked at her in a funny way. She
had no friends.
fish, little fish,
come out of the reeds
on the streams side,
and play with me.
tried to figure out what to do. She asked several of the children
if they would try to include Rachel in their games. They said no,
they wouldnt. She arranged for the class to have a demonstration
of how a hearing aid works. The kids were fascinated. She talked
with two girls who seemed more understanding than some of their
classmates, and asked them to make an extra effort to make friends
with Rachel. They said they would try, and they did.
robins are out,
Pulling worms from the damp ground.
Spring is humorous.
The rest of
Rachels fourth-grade class got better all the time. The two
girls who went to her aid found that they really liked her, that
she was fun to be around. Then other children began learning the
same thing. Her enthusiasm for all the things she was learning in
class grew week by week. As the school year drew to a close, the
teacher decided to make a change in her own plans. Instead of leading
another fourth-grade class the next year, she would, like her pupils,
advance to the fifth grade. She made sure Rachel would be in her
leaping across meadows,
playing by starlite,
to touch noses
with a woodland creature.
Dawn pierces the sky,
the unicorn goes to
rest on soft clouds.
year that Rachel was in the teachers class was wonderful for
them both. Rachel excelled in everything she did. She had better
friendships than ever before in her life. She went on all the class
field trips. Her schoolwork was above and beyond what was assigned,
with very few mistakes. Best of all was her creative writing, and
she always illustrated the stories she wrote. At the end of that
year, the teacher was sure Rachel was the smartest student she had
eagle is courage.
An eagle is glory.
An eagle is freedom.
An eagle is strength.
An eagle is wildness.
An eagle is boldness.
An eagle is a symbol.
An eagle is few.
And they are beautiful.
was the last one Rachel spent at the teachers school, before
moving on to junior high. Rachel was not in the teachers class
that year, so they did not see each other very often. They would
sometimes chat on the playground during recess and lunch, and they
still cared for one another. But Rachel had many other things on
her mind: new classes, old and new friends, perhaps even a boy or
two. On the last day of school, the teacher looked for Rachel to
say goodbye. The moment was emotional, but no more so than other
moments had been with other students. Rachel was looking ahead,
to things to come.
are magical places.
Everywhere you look
A magical animal darts away.
Everywhere you go\
Magic awaits you.
came, but Rachel was no longer at the teachers school. She
was off somewhere else, being a seventh-grader-and a very
pretty one, at that. The teacher wondered about her from time to
time, and so called her parents to ask. They were pleased to hear
from the teacher, and had nothing but good news to report. Rachel
was thriving in junior high. They were sure she was going to do
just fine. Cheered by the news, the teacher promised to stay in
touch. But her life and her work, as always, got very busy. There
were new pressures, new situations, new children whose needs she
Then one day
a little book of poems arrived in the mail.
teacher is a friend
who helps you learn
math, English, social studies,
science, reading and fun
A teacher is like another parent,
and makes sure
you do your
and get it right
so youll have
no troubles as you
be a teacher
To order Richard McCord's
book "The Other State: New Mexico, USA," just out in paperback,
Articles by Richard McCord