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'Who Will Clean Out The Desks' — A crowdsourced poem in praise of teachers

A teacher cleans a desk in a classroom during a media tour at Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School in Las Vegas.
John Locher
/
AP
A teacher cleans a desk in a classroom during a media tour at Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School in Las Vegas.

As part of teacher appreciation month, Morning Edition asked NPR's audience to write a poem about teachers who have had an impact on their lives.

We put out this call a week before the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, so the majority of contributors are not reflecting on that horrific day but a late addition did reflect that loss.

We received over 300 responses, and NPR's poet in residence Kwame Alexander took lines from submissions to create a community poem.

This poem is dedicated to all teachers, but especially to Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles, fourth grade teachers who lost their lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Who Will Clean Out The Desks

Teachers make a dent.

A soft curve in the gray matter

A crevice where light shines in

a seed to germinate.

They open eyes

kick open Imagination

Make us see

encourage change of mind

and change of heart

NOT to force the walking of a single path

But the revelation of many.

Teachers make and shape

They weave through the constraints on their vision

creating and molding the students.

Teachers celebrate

Teachers conquer hate and foster expectation

teachers make light go

where darkness has resided

make chrysanthemums of wildflower seeds,

tall stems and fragile blossoms exploding in their reach.

They make statements that linger long after the lessons have been absorbed. Like Mrs. Tucker who wrote, "Amy is like a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day" on my first-grade report card,

Teachers bring forth dreamers and thinkers.

They make us Stretch

make us Wake up

Make us Realize compassion

Make us feel

Make us Cry

Make us Laugh

make us understand our Connection

make us grateful.

This is for Mr. Wilke

who taught Vocational Electronics

at Romeo High School in Michigan.

He helped make a creative mind

Crafted, molded and helped find

New interests and ideas, refined

To create new words, undefined.

Trips like Sisyphus each year,

Another journey up the hill,

Another class to teach,

Another state test to endure and stress over,

Another prom, graduation, homecoming,

Another break to look forward to.

Teachers are there despite it all

Even when the world makes you feel small.

Mrs. Hunney didn't do it for the money.

She saw I had potential,

even with dyslexia I could be Presidential.

You see, Teachers make bad days into good

Make the journey as meaningful as the destination

Make reading rewarding

make good trouble.

Teachers make decisions.

Around 1,500 per day.

What to say, how to say it, and when

Teachers make love

out of everything.

Teachers make me feel like I am special

like I am safe

Teachers make Sense

Of a jumble of eighth notes and

Then quarter notes

And a smear of dark chords

They make music.

On the day that he died, not just me but the whole school cried, " he's the reason I graduated" " he's the reason I ate lunch" "When my own dad ran out, he helped me so much" They'd honk as they passed by our house day and night , a constant reminder of his touch on their life

A teacher is nothing without a student

As is a farmer without a field

A mind rich with knowledge

A teacher is nothing when stripped of their power

As is a train when emptied of fuel

Censored and idle

We are here because teachers make students

From saplings to majestic Trees of potential.

They make us whole.

They make impressions

subtle hands that make themselves available

to guide us on this trail of woe

and wonder

Teachers leave the door open for us to walk through

but when the last bell rings

when the classroom is locked down

who will clean out all the desks?

The math worksheets

The missing LEGO,

the one goldfish cracker

the paper clips and crumpled post-its that say "I love you!"

the Pencil boxes and old erasers,

the one Pokemon card (Cramorant)

the empty glue stick,

the dusty Harry Potter mask.

the dirt-smudged backpacks?

At the end of the day

Who will help the teachers prepare for the next

Who will make a home for the heavy hearts,

for The sacred ones who can't stop thinking about those 19 desks,

those 19 backpacks

those 19 summer vacations,

those 19 new pairs of sandals.

those 19 next school years and school years after that

and after that and after that.

Teachers don't let us give up on the words

They help us find them

They help us find ourselves

Just breathe and keep being kind to children

is their mantra –

Who will hold them in kind and caring arms

when the world is not so beautiful

when the summer burns red

when there are no more children

to be kind to.

I say, Let it be us.

Because teachers matter.

This community poem was created using submissions by:

Meg Frost, Mapleton, UT

Patricia Stevenson, Shaker Heights, OH

Matthew Monte, Houghton, MI

James From, Dunwoody, GA

Amy Walter-Peterson, Victor, NY

Ben Ark, Louisville, KY

Alexander Simanovsky, Charleston, SC

Lacey Reach, Macon, GA

Sarah Colerick, Seattle, WA

Carol Sadewasser, Parma, OH

John Douglas, Saint Louis, MO

Eileen Hennessy, Joelton, TN

Aaron Bowen, Morristown, TN

Shelley Sollars, Bloomfield, MI

Ron Meyers, New York, NY

Bhavya Reddy, Green Brook NJ

Maddie Radcliff, Omaha, NE

John Linder, Jr, Brooklyn, NY

Tim Josephs, Greensboro, NC

Karen Sherlock, Boulder, CO

Jeet Chadha, Saint Louis, MO

Beverly Peterson, Williamsburg, VA

Robert Warden, Bryan, TX

Chelsea Quam, Sonora, CA

Matthew Friday, Bend, OR

Marina Roytman, Fresno, CA

Morgan Deane, Outer Banks NC

George Asdel, Atascadero, CA

Sonya Jaworski, St Paul, MN

Cheryl WhiteDear, Peabody, MA

Sarah Kirn, Cumberland, ME

Richard Taylor-Kenny, Sherwood, OR

Jen Nails, Las Vegas, NV

Jeevika Verma and Reena Advani produced and edited the audio story. Reena Advani and Rina Torchinsky adapted it for the web.

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.
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