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This community-sourced poem is all about hope for the new school year

Student backpacks in a classroom at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on June 24, 2022 in New York City.
Michael Loccisano
/
Getty Images
Student backpacks in a classroom at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on June 24, 2022 in New York City.

The poet Rumi wrote, "Let the beauty we love be what we do." With a new school year underway, many teachers are drawn to their classrooms by just that sense of love.

We're thinking about it at Morning Edition, too.

"I love my job, and my job, of course, is to change the world, one word at a time," says NPR's Poet-in-Residence Kwame Alexander.

Morning Edition asked listeners to send us poems describing their hopes for the coming school year.

And in came more than 400 poems — from parents, students and teachers. In one, a student vowed to listen more intently to their teacher. In another, the writer imagined learning to drive this year. Many submissions from teachers echoed a singular promise: to be there for their students — and for themselves.

Alexander took submissions and stitched them into a community-sourced poem — embracing all the anxiety, anticipation and excitement that the first days of school can bring.

Read Alexander's poem, titled This Year Shall Be Different or listen to it above.


This Year Shall Be Different
I want to teach my children there is a hopeful future still ahead
And that kids like themselves — dogged and bent and quirky and kind —
Are going to make it.
I want to Wipe away their tears
Confront all their fears
Step into the need
Give them voice and choice,
seek to employ
a house of greater joy.
Then stop good teachers from leaving.
Because We are scaffolding somebodies
a sweeter society

This year, I promise to
Paper over the stain on the wall
Find one more student desk from the hall
Replenish the band-aid supply by the door
Stash spare snacks — peanut-free! — to be sure
Sort and organize the knowledge of centuries
into a learning management system;
Grade the papers,
monitor the anxiety;
Organize your backpack when papers come unfurled
Sit with you as you rage against the world
Focus on the big questions
in a culture of fast answers.

You see, This year
I've got
colleges to tour
teachers to bore,
math to do
Teachers to woo
Essays to write
Sources to cite
shoes to tie
Important people to look in the eye

Quizzes to complete, try not to make a mistake.
Got to learn to drive, learn to slam the brakes
My room is a mess, I have a bed to make.

Daily habits to teach
Parents I'll need to reach
And as soon as I get a minute
I just may ask an author to visit

I've got friends to make
Long tests to take
A's to pursue
a new hairdo
homework to do,
so no haiku
sports to play
exams to slay
birthdays to celebrate
And debates to moderate
meals to make
breaks to take
There are dreams to believe
And goals to achieve
And all the while
I need to keep my smile

This year
I have to learn from my oversights
So life can be full of many delights
I have a great many doors to open.
Lessons to plan — make them engaging.
Kids to care for — make them feel welcome.
Communities to build — make them feel safe.
This year I'll smell the grass and the leaves,
breathe the air that blows through the trees
Take a step back, and realize that I also have myself to please.

This year I'll try to make many quick decisions.
And try to be hopeful to avoid any mental collision.
Reach young children. Be a star.
Get down low. See eye to eye.
Be in the know
and by and by
Turn on the air purifier,
Open a window to set free yesterday's air.
Make this room be a place where we ignite possibility.

It's been a week and I've already
labeled all the folders, arranged our chairs in fours
Laminated calming posters, hung a hall pass by the door
A neighbor's old armchair, a soft pillow to hug
I put them in the corner next to the donated rug
I finished my Compliance Training in the nick of time
Checked out the pristine Wellness room, our new paradigm
I've printed out the rosters, found the copy room
Sent the boss my syllabus, including links to Zoom
I've got chocolate in my desk and coffee pods on the shelf
This year we're going to do it: take care of our mental health

This Year Shall Be Different
I will wait in line,
Raise my hand,
be respectful,
listen to my teacher.
learn the new curriculum
welcome my students
I will thrive
because...

I want to show them that they are worthy,
That no skin, muscle, heart, mind,
or way of loving makes them less worthy,
that the world is full of beautiful variety,
that the loss of any one is grievous to all,

that listening is a gift to the other,
that speaking is an act of courage,
that believing is as vital as breath
that discovering is more important than knowing
that loving is more important than being right

But if I had to choose just one thing
I think I'd be happy if I could just be with friends
and somehow some way, find myself again.


This community poem was creating using submissions by (in alphabetical order):

Liam Alsbury, San Luis Obispo, CA

Mary Arguelles, West Reading, PA

Sydney Bastian, Ijamsville, MD

Naomi Bosman, Valparaiso, IN

Lucy Bullington, Phoenix, AZ

Shannon Daly, West Hartford, CT

Jill DeTemple, Dallas, TX

Diane Fingers, St. Peters, MO

Bethany Gorman, Houston, TX

Pam Gower, Haslett, MI

Usiah Greene, Williamsburg, VA

Cadence Hornsby, Morton, IL

Devan Kalra, Houston, TX

Chrissy Macso, Akron, OH

Emily Marvel, Boston, MA

Carolyn McCarthy, Houston, TX

Blake Mellencamp, Indianapolis, IN

Neva Foy Neva, Fort Collins, CO

Madison Podesta, Gilbert, AZ

Jing Qiu, St. Louis, MO

Autumn Sadovnik, Reisterstown, MD

Mary Sitze, Amherst, MA

Nathan Smith, Peton, CO

Eva K. Sullivan, Silver Spring, MD

Brett Vogelsinger, Bucks County, PA

Leslee Wagner, Swarthmore, PA

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.