By Lise Spangenthal

Illustrator: PJBF

illustration: PJBF

The label sticks like duct tape;
easy to apply, near impossible to remove.
Humanity and empathy are not measurable standards
or my students would all exceed expectations on the AIMS.

The word scrapes like wire brush
attempting to remove graffiti from the girls’ bathroom wall.
My students arrive daily from unimaginable circumstances.
Witness to drive-bys, drugs, incarceration and death.
Sometimes appearing on Monday
their last meal Friday’s free lunch.

The word stings like an angry bee
hidden in the peach tree outside my classroom window.
My students hold bake sales for goats for the Heifer Project
Trick or Treat for UNICEF, returning
Those bright familiar orange boxes heavy with change
for the “poor kids.”

The word harsh and ugly,
Amidst the beauty of our South Mountain view.
My students give up Saturdays
Special Olympic coaches, pushing wheelchairs,
Racing with their buddies to the finish line.
My students give up Saturdays to fold a thousand cranes for peace.
Sadako’s story still lingers in their hearts.
Instructing grownups on the evils of war, the innocent victims vaporized
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The word burns like a brand, the scarlet U.
My students are empowered.
They write letters for unheard voices.
Free Reza Baluchi, Iranian cyclist for peace.
To our principal for picnic tables,
to our learning community, to be stewards of our garden.

The word shatters like window.
What the hell does that word mean?
Seals perform.
Clowns perform.
Children learn.

Lise Spangenthal (iteach@cybertrails.com) currently teaches integrated language arts and social studies in a seventh/eighth-grade classroom in Phoenix, Arizona.