I came upon a person by the sea,
Of haggard aspect, battered down by time.
He slumped upon a bench with downcast head,
And though the sky and ocean were alight,
It seemed it was in darkness that he sat,
An abject figure, sunk in hopelessness.
I sat beside him, wondering at this.
Had death or separation caused this man
To slouch like this, alone by oceanside,
As breezes blew and all around him seemed
A picture drawn of paradise on earth,
With Nature in her garb of happiness?
So when at last he turned to glance at me,
With a look of desperation tinged with guilt,
I bravely ventured then to ask of him
The reason for his obvious sunken state.
And hearing this, he then began to speak,
With a voice that trembled in its earnestness.
“I am a teacher. That is all I know.
For many years, I labored at my job.
And all, that's thrown at teachers, I withstood
And tried to teach, so students then could learn.
But towards the end, I burned, it seemed, in fire,
And all my nights were seized by craziness.
“The job, impossible for those who are
Disabled by the human tendency
To do their best, and do it honestly,
To care for those they teach, and what they teach,
I still had done, for many, many years,
And even drawn, from it, my sustenance.
“We teachers earn, as workers, salaries,
But that is all. Whatever benefits
Our union got for us, that now erode,
Do not suffice for labor such as ours,
Which sucks, from each who labors, life itself,
And leaves behind a husk – and emptiness.
“And though some fall away, defeated, some
Persist, for reasons various, and each
Has self to feed – and family as well.
And some are able, by some magic art,
To distance selves from what they do each day,
And so survive, by gift of provenance.
“And others find, perhaps, a little niche,
In which they may find shelter for a while,
And even, if they're fortunate, a bit
Of satisfaction, as their students learn.
For that is what sustains the teachers true,
Who cannot feed at troughs of callousness.
“For teachers learn, who truly are sincere,
Beyond their payment, never to expect,
From those who run the show, the sordid game,
A word of praise – or even from their wards,
Who still are young – and unaware of all
The teacher does, in strength or weariness.
“But teaching, just like learning, is a joy,
And when the ground is fertile, even seeds
By sowers lightly cast, untended, grow
And then bear fruit, with more of seeds in turn.
But others fall on ground that's arid, hard,
And all our tending ends in fruitlessness.
“For teaching, learning need some shelter, space,
Some attitudes from those who teach and learn,
From those who run the schools, who make the laws.
For all our culture did not come from those
Who play at high finance or at their wars,
But those, who wove their threads in diligence.
“There came a time when I grew tired of stress,
Of all my labor past and present and
The prospect of yet more until my end.
And all my efforts seemed a waste of time,
So many hours and days and years misspent,
Amounting, at the end, to nothingness.
“And even then, like a horse that's trained to pull,
I strained at harness, though my load grew such
I only crawled. But never, even then,
Did I succumb to any of the scams
That pass for teaching and are glorified,
Though none can pass the test of harmlessness.
“For we have students, who have but one life,
And parents, live or dead, who gave them this.
And every day they spend with us is less
From what they have, before they too are dead.
So can a conscience let one sleep, who then
Gives other than his due of diligence?
“Deprived of sleep, I felt that I was spent,
So all, that once had looked alluring, now
Appeared as dull. And what was savory,
When I was rested, now had lost its taste.
And life itself, with all its promise and
Its pleasures seemed absurd and meaningless.
“The ones I'd loved, the ones who gave me life
Had passed away – and even as I worked.
Not only all my most productive years,
But even those for whom I deeply cared
I'd lost to this, the work that teachers do,
Impossible, in total earnestness.
“For teachers, as I said, to labor true,
Look not for praise, but need – the space to teach.
But even this, to them, is now denied,
And all the castigation of the world
Is heaped on those who labor most to teach,
And they are left with naught but hopelessness.
“And yet, I could not leave my job, because
On it depended life and family.
And teaching was the only thing I knew,
And from that thing, that all my life consumed,
I'd drawn my meaning, structured all the rest
Around that thing – that turned to shamelessness.”
He stopped. The blood, that seemed had drained away,
When first I saw him, pounded in a vein
Upon his temple – and his face was flushed.
He'd straightened, gestured, come to life, but now
Again, I saw, had started to collapse.
I took my leave, in sudden fecklessness.
But when, returning from my evening walk,
I passed that spot, I saw, in gloaming's light,
That selfsame man, that teacher, self-described,
Was sitting there, with eyes affixed on ground.
And seeing this, I hastened then my step,
And passed him by, in haste and wariness.