Education Opinion

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard

By Emmet Rosenfeld — July 20, 2007 3 min read
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I never could resist a pun
But I’ve also learned in writing
Not to push away ideas even if they seem at first
Like fleeting shapes amidst the branches of a distant tree
Shimmering in the summer heat

I saw blackboards against the night sky at 2:27 am
Doggedly wrestling the ideas into what I thought would be a post
Then showed it to Alyssa the next morning in the class I teach about publishing
She said I needed to figure out what I was trying to say with some discovery writing
With all the publishing I wondered if I’d forgotten how to discover

In “Voices from the Classroom” we post our drafts on line
Each Friday for members of our writing group
The first week I screwed up the settings on blackboard
And the forgiving class gave feedback via email
Or using editing functions in word or google
Or by writing notes on good old-fashioned lined paper

As I putzed around the settings troubleshooting
I noticed new tools including blogs and wikis I swear weren’t there last year
Ever optimistic about integrating technology I thought
I can find a way to use them in a future class
As I putzed around the settings troubleshooting

Connie is another “Voices” student with lots of experience in online classes
She sent me a couple helpful emails during the week
With protocols for posting and ideas for discussing
Professional literature with an online forum
There’s always knowledge in the room

One “Voices” student seems to have stopped coming to class
She didn’t like the response when we workshopped her piece
And later I realized that she’d never workshopped before
What I thought was helpful feedback felt to her like she was being attacked
Every teacher needs to give himself permission
To watch a blackbird fly away sometimes

Way back in the 20th century
Wallace Stevens wrote a haunting imagistic poem
English teachers venturing beyond state standards
Still occasionally tackle in the 21st
With students raised on a lean diet of test prep
Whose tolerance for ambiguity generally extends as far
As wondering what will happen to Harry Potter in the last book

Sam Swopes was a writer who dabbled brilliantly
In a New York City classroom for a year and wrote I am a Pencil
He taught Wallace Stevens’ poem to 3rd graders
Because he didn’t know any better

I still remember sitting in the library analyzing an image
From an Auden poem of a shingle bouncing off a cliff into the sea
when I took “Brit Lit” in college with a famous literary critic named Helen Vendler
She wrote the following a year after I was born
But neurosis and death are only instances of a pervasive relational eccentricity. Our extent in space (as well as in time) goes only as far as the blackbird goes – the blackbird is our “line of vision” (ix), as it is our line of thought: when we are of two minds (or, as Stevens presses it, “of three minds”), it is not as if we had a blackbird, an oriole, and a pigeon in view, but only “a tree / In which there are three blackbirds”..
I don’t get it

Schools have changed since Stevens’ day
Blackboards written on with chalk
Have been replaced by whiteboards written on with dry erase markers
Or in wealthy districts by smart boards that are actually computer screens
With which one interacts by touching them
Last year the not a blackboard in my classroom wasn’t hooked up for six months
We hung pieces of chart paper on it and wrote on them with magic markers

Teaching freshman composition at the community college
Two nights a week keeps me honest
Adults dealt a different hand in life than I
Show up to learn how to write research papers in another language
I use a tool called an “Elmo” to pop their papers up onto the screen
Or sometimes just write on the blackboard

At night school I usually have to run to a neighboring classroom for chalk
The other night I poked my head into a room where a teacher was lecturing
Back to the class as he scribbled on the board
I waved quietly to students as I walked to the chalkboard on the side of the room
Grabbed a piece of chalk and left

Staring out the window of my man zone
Up at a tree branch devoid of morning birds
More ideas are bubbling up about schools and books
Consider yourself lucky if you can narrow it down to thirteen.

The opinions expressed in Eduholic are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.