Friday, August 8, 2014


I've spent this week teaching at my district's New Educator Institute. One thousand brand new, hot off the press, baby teachers.  I love working with new teachers. I love seeing them decked out in their brand new business casual teacher wear. Listening to their  dreams. Inhaling all that shiny hopefulness. I am so glad they have chosen to enter this teacher life that I so, so, so love.

And at the same time, I know how hard this job can be. I know about the lesson plans and team meetings and desk piles. I know about growth objectives and test prep and data dives. And cocktail party conversations and radio talk shows that make me swear and bang the dashboard. I know that many of these baby teachers will not return next year. And that almost half will be gone within five years. 

And I listen to all their bright, shiny, new dreams and I feel so sad. Because we need them to stay. So this morning, instead of finishing the template that was due two weeks ago, or responding to the 35 assignments that got turned in at the class I taught last night, or cleaning house in preparation for the friend that is moving in next week, I'm messing around in maudlin poetry.

"A little advice to first year teachers…"

I watch you stride into
new educator institute
just-purchased teacher bag
filled with big ideas
and hopes and dreams
and I want to say

feed your soul.
please, feed your soul.

Next week
when you walk into that classroom
with the shelf of curriculum binders
guaranteed to prepare kids
for the Common Core
or the common good
or Armageddon
(whichever happens first)
get out your new journal
uncap your favorite pen
and write a letter
to remind yourself
of all the really important things
you want to do this year
feed your soul
please, feed your soul.

The weekend
before school starts
put away that foot-long list of things
you need to buy do create be
by Monday morning
and go to dinner with friends
eat warm chips and homemade salsa
raise glasses and
toast all that will be
laugh long into the night
feed your soul
please, feed your soul.

After that first observation
when the hour-long lesson you spent
four hours planning
totally flops
go for a bike ride
notice autumn leaves
turning redyelloworangered
breathe pumpkin and applecrisp 
feed your soul
please, feed your soul.

On Sunday afternoon
when you are supposed to
grade that never ending stack of
persuasive essays
sit in a quiet corner of a
neighborhood coffee shop
order a large chai latte
and read for an hour
or two or three
feed your soul
please feed your soul.

In March
go somewhere beachy
dig your toes
into warm sand
take long afternoon naps
cheer as pinklavenderpurple sun
drops below the horizon
feed your soul
please feed your soul.

I watch you walking into
new educator institute
and I wonder if I should tell you
that this teacher life you have chosen
is rich rewarding wonderful
and also exhausting draining discouraging
and each day you will have to decide
which it will be

and the kids need you
to come back lugging that same bag
of hopes dreams big ideas
next year and the year after that
and yes, the next year too

so feed your soul
please feed your soul.

(c) Carol Wilcox

Mary Lee is hosting Poetry Friday this week. 
Head over there to graze on some real poetry.


Linda B said...

I wish I had had this last Wed., Carol, with my writers groups. We (all teachers) veered into talks of balance and helping each other have fun, and not work past dinner time, how to "feed our souls". It's beautifully supportive and I wonder if you can copy, or send via e-mail to those 1,000 teachers. What a gift it will be for them.

Mary Lee said...

This is going up on my fridge. And beside my desk at school. And in the teachers' lounge.

Carol Varsalona said...

Carol, this is a beautiful poem for young teachers and for veteran ones because all need to feed their souls. Your poem should be sent out via Twitter to state ed chats so all can savor the words of wisdom found within your lines. May I share it on #NYEDChat with our educators who follow?

Also, can I lure you into writing/reflecting on summer serenity to take you away from you everyday tasks? If so, consider reading,

Joyce Ray said...

Oh, Carol,as a retired teacher, I agree that your poem needs to be shared with teachers everywhere. It's beautiful, and I so glad you took the time to write it. I particularly love the way you pile words together to emphasize abundance and the repetitive plea to "feed your soul."

Diane Mayr said...


Violet N. said...

What great advice, so powerfully written. I needed to hear this long ago, when I was a first-year teacher, and a second and third year teacher. Burnout is way too easy in the teaching profession.

Violet N.

GatheringBooks said...

Oh Carol, I will definitely be sharing this poem with my preservice teachers and the allied educators I will be teaching this coming semester. Beautiful message for all of us - newbie and oldtimer teachers alike. Feed thy soul. :)

Irene Latham said...

Feed your soul, indeed! I have a friend who is a brandnew teacher this year... not sure she is ready for this poem. :) thank you for sharing!

Bridget Magee said...

"feed your soul" Profound. Thank you. = )