Poetry Friday:“Learning in the First Grade”by Jane Kenyon


Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi Mordhorst @  My Juicy Little Universe

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When my children were still in school, and in the days before everything was online and just a click away, the last Thursday of the last week of August was momentous.  This was the day when we would jump eagerly into our mini van and race over to the elementary school to checkout the class rosters posted on the main door; this was the day when my kids would learn the all-important, must-know bit of information that would determine so much of the shape of their new school year –  who their classroom teacher was to be.

Our rides back home would be filled with conversations about these teachers: what had you heard about him/her from friends? what had you observed about this person as you had made your way through the earlier grades? what did you know you had to look out for – good and/or  bad?  By the time we’d arrived back home, each of my kids would have already formed a stance about what their new school year would be like, an impression of the long months of school life ahead, based just on this one piece of information: who their teacher was.

On Wednesday, alerted by a colleague, I opened up my 2016-2017 grade book and read through the names listed on my student rosters: morning block and afternoon block, there they were…the names of the children who I would be spending my teaching year with. Somewhere in the suburban New Jersey town in which I teach, I thought, these kids were also discovering my name…they were forming an impression of what their sixth grade year in reading,writing, and social studies would be.  School has not yet begun, but they are ready, now, to take their first stance as sixth graders, as “Smithlings”.

What would I want them to know at this moment?  What do I want them to believe about the learning year to come?

I want them to be like the Galileo Galilei in Jane Kenyon’s poem below – intent on finding their own truths in the work we do, invested in discovering their own answers, unafraid to be finical.

Learning in the First Grade by Jane Kenyon

“The cup is red. The drop of rain
is blue. The clam is brown.”

So said the sheet of exercises–
purple mimeos, still heady
from the fluid in the rolling
silver drum. But the cup was

not red. It was white,
or had no color of its own.

Oh, but my mind was finical.
It put the teacher perpetually
in the wrong. Called on, however,
I said aloud: “The cup is red.”

“But it’s not,” I thought,
like Galileo Galilei
muttering under his beard….


16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday:“Learning in the First Grade”by Jane Kenyon

  1. You know, for someone as finicky as I, I’m amazed that I’d never heard (or realized I’d heard anyway) the word “finical”. Thank you. I love that word!
    How sad that we have a whole generation who don’t know the intoxicating fresh mimeo aroma…perhaps it’s why we could all sit still for longer than kids can today???

  2. Oh my this is wonderful, Tara. Like others, I love that ‘finical’, & the smell of mimeos attached to purple fingers! I remember giving (having to give) a test to my first graders (my first students) long ago, & the test insisted that the windows should be on either side of the front door, hence that was the “prettiest” house. They were grades incorrect if they chose the other house with two windows together to the side of the door. After all this time I remember counting any of the choices correct. Silly test, & really it went nowhere but to my principal. And, my own kids discovered their new teacher just as you describe-what a day that was!

  3. What’s crazy is not much has really changed. We still have these in the teacher work room: “purple mimeos, still heady
    from the fluid in the rolling
    silver drum” I can smell that scent! What impressions do we give to our students. It would be fun to ask them before anything to jot down a bit and save it somewhere to check later in the year.

  4. What an important aspect of education you’ve tapped into here–the student-teacher relationship.

    so much depends

    that powerful

    tacked to the
    main door

    of the neighboorhood

  5. Yes! The anticipation of who your teacher will be, wrapped up together with new clothing, colorful notebooks, unsharpened pencils (with erasers!) and crisp lined paper. Such wonderful memories. Thank you for welcoming us to your new school year, Tara, for sharing that wonder of a poem.

  6. This poem resonates with the ones Linda Mitchell and Tabatha shared! As I wrote in Tabatha’s comments, It’s so fun when there are echoes throughout the PF Roundup!!

  7. Oh my, this brings back so many memories. Of school. “purple mimeos, still heady
    from the fluid in the rolling
    silver drum.”
    And your memories of your children’s elementary days, of your future Smithlings. As always, your poetry posts give so much.

  8. Tara, thanks for introducing me to a new form of finicky. I love the word and see it has a righteous place in the poem you shared with us. May your year be filled with young minds that seek new truths.

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