A Poem for Teachers Today

A change of pace, here. This is one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, R. S. Gwynn. It’s very funny, in a mordant sense. As a teacher, I can often relate to the sense of absurdity and futility Gwynn describes here. ( A school being put where a bookstore went bankrupt!)

As far as I know, Gwynn’s book of selected poems is out of print. Get it used while you still can.


The Classroom At The Mall

R. S. Gwynn

Our Dean of Something thought it would be good

For Learning (even better for P. R.)

To make the school “accessible to all”

And leased the bankrupt bookstore at the mall

A few steps from Poquito’s Mexican Food

And Chocolate Chips Aweigh. So here we are –


Four housewives, several solemn student nurses,

Ms. Light – serious, heavy, very dark –

Pete Fontenot, who teaches high-school shop

And is besides a part-time private cop

Who leaves his holstered Glock among the purses,

And I, not quite as thin as Chaucer’s clerk –


Met for our final class while Season’s Greetings

Subliminally echo calls to buy

Whatever this year’s ads deem necessary

For Happiness and Joy. The Virgin Mary,

Set up outside to audit our last meetings,

Adores her infant with a glassy eye.


Descend, O Muzak! Hail to thee, World Lit!

Hail, Epic (“most of which was wrote in Greek”)

And hail three hours deep in Dante’s Hell

(The occupants of which no one could spell) –

As much as our tight schedule might admit

Of the Great Thoughts of Man – one thought per week.


I’ve lectured facing towards “The Esplanade”

Through plate-glass windows. Ah, what do I see?

Is that the face “that lunched a thousand ships”

Awash with pimples? Oh, those chocolate chips!

Ms. Light breaks in: “Will this be for a grade?”

It’s a good thing the students all face me.


One night near Halloween I filled the board

With notes on Faust. A Pentecostal hair-

Do (with a woman underneath) looked in,

Copying down my scrawl with a tight grin

That threatened she’d be back with a flaming sword

To corner me and Satan in our lair.


Tonight, though, all is calm. They take their quiz

While I sit calculating if I’ve made

Enough to shop for presents. From my chair

I watch the Christmas window-shoppers stare

At what must seem a novelty, and is,

This Church of Reason in the Stalls of Trade –


Like the blond twins who press against the door,

Accompanied by footsore, pregnant Mummy,

Who tiredly spells out for them the reason

I am not price-tagged as befits the season,

Explaining what is sold in such a store

With nothing but this animated dummy


Who rises, takes the papers one by one

With warm assurances that all shall pass

Because “requirements have been met,” because

I am an academic Santa Claus,

Because mild-mannered Pete’s strapped on his gun.

Ms. Light declares she has enjoyed the class:


“They sure had thoughts, those old guys,” she begins,

Then falters for the rest. And I agree

Because, for once, I’ve nothing left to say

And couldn’t put it better anyway.

I pack the tests, gather my grading pens,

And fumble in my jacket for the key,


With time to spend and promises to keep

And not one “hidden meaning” to the tale,

Among these drifting schools of moon-eyed teens,

License and credit bulging in their jeans,

Who circle, hungry for the choice and cheap –

Something of value, soon to go on sale


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