I have been on a bit of a poetry kick lately. Not old Virginia Wolf type poetry, but a lot of stuff from contemporary poets. During one of my poet searches I found Sarah Kay, who is a wonderful poet who wrote the poem that I’m going to share below. It’s significant to me because the principal that it’s about, Mrs. Ribiero, has a lot of the traits and qualities that I’d like to have as a teacher. She impacts her students in the same ways that I’d like to one day.
For example, no matter what kind of important grown up business she had to attend to, she put that aside if she had a student that needed her–no matter how small the need. This shows that students that they are valued and important, something that everyone should feel. She spoke to them in ways that validated them as the scholars, artists, scientists, athletes, and musicians that they were striving to be. This is important because having that identity and confidence is just as important as the knowledge that comes with it. It may even be more important, because it establishes that “can do” attitude that projects further into the future than any plain old fact may.
Mrs. Ribiero brought a llama into the classroom so that the students could learn about it in a way that was more meaningful than any picture or slideshow could ever be! Sarah Kay also said how “She made us wonder. She made us question. She made us proud of what we had learned.” I want to be the kind of teacher that shows how inquiring minds and questions are more powerful than answers. As the playwright, Eugene Ionesco, once wrote, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the questions.”
Mrs. Ribiero helped shaped her students into becoming the best selves they could be. She helped to show them the world and the potential that it held for them. I don’t know if Sarah Kay made up Mrs. Ribiero or if she is a true person. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that she represents a kind of teaching–a way of being–that the world needs more of. She represents the kind of teacher that I hope to one day become. So, without further adieu, I present Mrs. Ribiero.
I was in Northern India, at a school run entirely by women volunteers, when I
heard it for the first time in ages. It was barely audible above the shouting of
children – the squeals and laughter bubbling from the schoolyard into the
classroom windows. But it was there: the swish of silk saris and the jingle
jangle of bangles on thin wrists like wind chimes.
This is what learning sounds like. I remember.
I remember when I was five years old, the principal of my Junior School was
Mrs. Ribeiro. She was an Indian woman the size of a nightlight, and she glided
like a sailboat through the hallways of our school.
Once, when I got close enough to grab a fistful of her draping
silk sari, I lifted it to try and see whether she had any feet at all.
I thought she floated.
We begged to be sent to her office: the hanging plants like a jungle
above our heads, her quiet laughter. Adults needed appointments,
but we did not. And even when she was in grown-up meeting,
all it took was a gentle knock on the door, a peek around the corner,
and she was off calling, “Sorry dear. We’ll have to reschedule.
I have to see someone else about a very important matter.
It’s about a gold star. It’s about a new diorama. It’s about a finished read book
one level higher than last time.”
She visited every classroom, knew every student by name. She spoke to us
like we were scholars. Artists. Scientists. Athletes.
Musicians. And we were My world was the size of a crayon box,
and it took every color to draw her.
Once, on a New York City sidewalk, a group of women in a brightly colored
saris walked by and someone shouted, “Look, Mom. Look at all those
principals!” My world was the size of a classroom. It was a tall as I could
stretch my fingers, calling, Please! Let me be the one to read to Mrs. Ribeiro.
Let me be the one to show her what I know.
Shirt. Pants. Socks. Shoes.
Cat. Dog. Bird. Fish.
Look how much I know.
She brought us guests and artists and a petting zoo. They set up the cages in
the parking lot while we were still tucked up in our classroom, unawares.
Rabbits and guinea pigs poked out their noses, but Mrs. Ribeiro came to rest in
front of the llama cage.
She and the llama considered each other for a long time. She asked if he was
tame enough to go inside. The trainers laughed and told her he was plenty
tame, but he didn’t know how to go up stairs. So she led him to the elevator.
And when the doors slid open on the second floor, these stood Mrs. Ribeiro in
her bright pink sari, with gold bangles and a llama on a leash.
She floated from class to class, and we stared, cheered, laughed, and shouted.
We tugged at her sari calling, “Miss, what is that? Where did it come from?”
She made us wonder. She made us question. She made us proud of what
we had learned.
Shirt. Pants. Shoes. Socks. Saris.
Cat. Dog. Bird. Fish. Llama.
Look how much I’ve learned.
She taught us to share. She taught us to listen when someone else is
speaking. And then she let us go. We were dandelion seeds released to the
wind, she asked for no return. We are saplings now with gentle hands.
The girl with bright cheeks and messy hairpins now works at an orphanage in
Cameroon. The boy with the color-ordered markers is now a graphic designer in
Chicago. The one with the best diorama is now an animal activist in Argentina.
The girl who loved to read out loud is now a poet in India. She let us fly.
So I find myself at the front of a classroom. My students tug at my sleeves
and ask me, “Miss, do all poets wear big black boots?” I pray for patience. For
wisdom. To find a way to tame all the peculiar animals of this world, to coax
them enough to brave the
elevator, to see the doors slide open to my student’s gaping mouths.
All the wild wonder.
They worry about everything.
They worry about what to write.
They worry about their grades.
They talk over one another until I cannot hear them.
I tell them, “Listen. Listen to one another like you know
you are scholars. Artists. Scientists. Athletes. Musicians. Like you know you
will be the ones to shape this world. Show me how
many colors you know how to draw with.
Show me how proud you are of what you have learned.
And I promise I will do the same.