Thursday, April 30, 2020

Why Johnny Cant Read, Part 2: Income Inequity

In an earlier post, here, I laid out what I believe to be the multiple reasons for reading failure in this country: income inequity, racism and segregation, brain-based reading disorders, environmental factors, and quality of instruction. Without addressing all of these issues, some societal, some child-based, and some school-based, we will never adequately address some children's failure to thrive as readers. In this post I will take on one of those issues: income inequity.

That poverty plays some role in creating vulnerable readers is incontrovertible. Four factors are consistently pointed to in the literature.
  1. Poverty impacts the health and well-being of children. Poor nutrition, inadequate medical care, sub-standard housing, pre-mature births, low birth weights are all products of poverty that impact on a child's physical and mental development.
  2. Children of poverty are exposed to far fewer words, far fewer complex sentences, and are engaged in far fewer conversation eliciting questions than middle- and upper-class children. These language differences can lead to problems learning to read, especially in classrooms where they are treated as deficits and where appropriate accommodations are not made.
  3. Poverty causes high levels of stress. Stress that is chronic and out of the child's control has an impact on brain development.
  4. Poverty limits a family's' ability to provide material resources such as high quality day-care, literacy materials, read aloud sessions, access to technology, and outside of the home cultural experiences. 
In his brilliant article in Medium, here, Paul Thomas, calls poverty a "first-mile problem." If classroom instruction is the "last mile", poverty is the first mile and must be addressed if the cycle of poverty/reading failure is to be broken. Thomas writes:

That first mile is much larger than formal schooling, and what we refuse to recognize is that measurable reading achievement is a marker for the disadvantages of poverty and inequity in both the lives and schooling of vulnerable populations of students.

Poverty may seem an intractable problem, but the truth is that the existence of poverty is a choice we have made as a society. As award winning Princeton economist Paul Krugman has said:

None of this is inevitable. Poverty rates are much lower in European countries than in the United States, mainly because of government programs to help the poor and unlucky.

There are many things that we can do immediately to improve the lives of people living in poverty. How do we do it? By supporting programs that raise the minimum wage, by improving access to high quality child care, by providing universal health care, by using and supporting public transportation, by shopping at local small businesses, and by writing to your government officials to make sure they know these are the kinds of programs you support.

Why, if these things will work, do we fail to do them? Primarily because in America we have embraced the false narrative that poverty is the fault of the people living in poverty. We have embraced the Horatio Alger myth that a people must "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." We have conveniently ignored the fact that our economic policies often cut off the bootstraps before a person can reach down to grab them. Other countries have been far more successful at combatting poverty than we, because their policies are not weighted down with this rugged individualist mentality. As recently as two weeks ago, Senator Lindsay Graham was worrying that people in desperate need of Coronavirus relief funds would use the money to avoid going to work. Blaming the poor for being poor is endemic to American mythology.

The #MeToo movement has taught us not to be so fast to blame the victim of sexual assault. We need a #MeToo movement for poverty. Why shouldn't teachers, those who care so deeply for the children. lead such a movement? As teachers we have an obligation, I believe, to be an advocate for our students. Is it too much to ask that the children who come into our classrooms are adequately fed and clothed and prepared for learning? It won't happen magically. It won't happen if we continue to blame the victim. We will have to fight for policies to make it happen.Teacher's voices can be powerful political weapons. Right now, with schools closed due to the pandemic, everyone is learning just how difficult the teacher's job is. Why not let everyone know how to make the job better and more successful?

Nor is our action on poverty limited to what we can do outside of the classroom. Awareness of the dilatory effects of poverty on learning to read must impact our instruction. If children have experienced mind altering stress at home, we need to attend to the kind of environment, safe, warm, nurturing, that we create in the classroom. We need to double down on efforts to develop relationships with these children, by sharing openly about ourselves and listening attentively as they share their lives with us.

If children have no books at home, we must send books home with them. If children have not been read to at home, we need to read to them more often at school. Not as a reward or as a way to cool down after lunch, but several times a day, so that the children can learn the language of books. If children have had limited linguistic experience, we must make sure that the classroom is full of talk and open ended questions that invite more talk. We must teach children how to talk to each other and structure play time so that they have an opportunity to talk to each other.

If children need to develop an academic vocabulary, we need to recognize that this vocabulary is developed through multiple interactions with words and we must highlight words in our read-alouds and in our conversations and call special attention to words in all of our interactions with students. We know that vocabulary learning happens best in real contexts, so we should downplay word definition exercises and emphasize lots of talk about words. Classrooms where children have the need to build oral language facility, in other words, should be full of oral language. 

We must also downplay measurements of student progress that sort kids into winners and losers at an early age. Assessments that direct instruction are important. A teacher's daily, informal assessments are critical. Standardized assessments that seek to sort, rather than inform, will only reinforce perceived deficits. Let's not think in terms of deficits, but in terms of opportunities for growth and invitations to instruction. Let's suspend the comparisons inherent in standardized tests and emphasize assessments that direct our instruction.

One of the dumbest educational ideas of the last 100 years has been doing away with recess. All children, and especially poor children, needs lots of regular exercise for the development of their brains as well as their bodies. Teachers must fight short sighted efforts to deny recess for any reasons, but especially not for more time for test preparation. It should be noted that movements to deny recess and underfund physical education have targeted schools in poorer neighborhoods. Just another way to punish the poor for being poor.

There is so much to do and so much on the plate of every teacher, but the last thing a child of poverty needs in the classroom is an impoverished, stilted, canned, standardized test driven curriculum. Give the children language. Give them literature. Give them consistency. Give them play. Give them a nurturing environment. Give them lively instruction. Give them joy in each accomplishment.

Let's see how that works.

Next up: Racism and Segregation

Monday, April 27, 2020

Why Johnny Can't Read? It's Complicated, Ms. Hanford.

H.L. Mencken, American journalist and social satirist once said, "For every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong." In reading instruction for the last 65 years or so, the simple wrong answer has been systematic phonics instruction.  Rudolph Flesch published Why Johnny Can't Read in 1955. He argued for a phonics-based reading approach as the cure to the then popular look-say method (Think Dick and Jane books). Since Flesch's book, all the "back to basics" movements which pop up about every 15 years or so in education have advocated for phonics based instruction. The latest iteration of this has been from Emily Hanford a journalist at American Public Media, who dresses up Flesch's phonics-based instruction as "the science of reading."

Simple solutions have great appeal. People can understand them. They are easily communicated. They don't cost a lot of money. They give us easy scapegoats, in this case teachers and colleges of education, so we don't need to look closely at ourselves and our society. But as Mencken pointed out, they are most often wrong.

It is interesting, I think, that despite all the hand wringing about methods of teaching reading, about 80% or so of students learn to read very well no matter what method is used. Human beings, for the most part, seem pre-disposed to learn to read. Nonetheless, too many children struggle to learn to read and it is our responsibility as teachers to find a way to assist all these children.

My old history professor, George Turner, used to warn me away from simple explanations in history. He said that historical events were best understood through the concept of the multiplicity of inter-causation: Lots of things conspire to make something happen or not happen. We might remember that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo led to the First World War, but that is an oversimplification. Various alliances, increasing militarization, imperialism, and nationalism were all contributing factors. We may remember the Watergate break-in precipitated Nixon's downfall, but Nixon's arrogance, pettiness, racism, mendacity, and paranoia all played a role.

So, it is with reading difficulty. The answer to why some children do not learn to read is complex. And, therefore, the solutions must match that complexity. Until we recognize this fact, we will continue to search for simple solutions that will inevitably fail.

What are the reasons for some children failing to thrive as readers?

Income Inequity - We can draw a direct line from family income to success or lack of success in reading. There are major differences in the resources available to middle and high income children in regards to reading materials and language exposure when compared to children living in poverty. Growing income inequity in this country continues to put many of our children at risk for failure.

Racism and Segregation - Legal segregation ended with Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954. De-facto segregation, however, has been steadily on the increase because of racism and discriminatory real estate practices fomented by businesses and by the government, aided and abetted by a still racist society. This de-facto segregation guarantees that educational resources are unevenly and inequitably distributed in the country, since so much of the educational tax base is rooted in property taxes.

Brain-based Reading Disorders - For reasons we do not fully understand, some children have difficulty processing the sounds in words. The term dyslexic is often used to describe these children. The number of dyslexics in the population has been difficult to pin down, with estimates varying from about 5 to about 20 percent of the population depending on the definition of the term. The smooth and fluent processing of written words (decoding) is a key component to skilled reading. This is the factor that Hanford and Flesch were addressing. Their mistake is to be overly myopic about this one factor as a cause for all reading difficulty.

Environmental Factors - These factors are closely related to income inequity. Successful learners of reading have access to lots of books in the home. Successful learners of reading have lots of outside the home experiences (background knowledge) to draw on for learning. Successful learners of reading come to school with a rich vocabulary. Successful learners of reading have been read to at home. 

This is not a "blame the parents" game. Parents of all socio-economic groups want their children to succeed in learning to read, but many factors conspire against them in providing a rich literate home environment. One of the underexamined factors here is a lack of home-school cultural match and how that impacts children.

Quality of Instruction - Teachers struggle to meet students needs for a variety of reasons. One key reason is a lack of sufficient understanding of the reading process. Undergraduate teaching programs struggle to provide enough instruction in reading instruction, both theoretical and practical. Contributing to the problem is an over-reliance by school districts and administrators on reading programs. Programmatic teaching consistently fails to meet many students needs and also stunts the growth of the professional in the classroom. Finally, teachers struggle to differentiate learning for the most vulnerable readers, because they fail to understand the learning strengths of children with different experiential backgrounds from their own.

What is lacking is not the right reading program, but an orientation toward responsive teaching. Responsive teaching meets the child where they are and flexibly provides the instruction that is needed. For this to be effective, of course, a deep understanding of reading processes is necessary. As a profession, an orientation toward responsive, rather than reactive, teaching can make all the difference for children. Obeisance to one size fits all teaching, or to any single methodology, will lead to continued failure to meet the needs of all students and continued failure to break the cycle of children who fail to thrive in reading.

Over the next several posts, I would like to explore these themes in detail. We must not say that there is nothing we can do about some of these issues, because if we cannot address each of these issues, we will not break the cycle of failure for our most vulnerable readers.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Poetry Month: On Friday We Get Pizza

It was true 50 years ago; it is true today. Friday is pizza day n the school cafeteria. I clearly remember the anticipation I felt as a student (and as a teacher) on Fridays, because I knew there was pizza in the oven for lunch. With April being Poetry Month, here is a poem from my book There's a Giant in My Classroom (Infinity Press) inspired by a lifetime of eating in school cafeterias. This poem has always proved popular with upper elementary school kids.

On Friday We Get Pizza

It’s Monday in the lunchroom,
And we kids are getting nervous.
We’re wondering what inedible
The cafeteria will serve us.

But we’re ready for most anything:
Rabbit tacos, candied beets-a.
We can get through Monday,
‘Cause on Friday we get pizza.

It’s Tuesday and we’re hungry.
Hear the rumbling in my belly?
Then as we get near the kitchen,
We whiff something foul and smelly.

But we’re ready for most anything:
Stewed moose jaw or pig’s feets-a.
We can get through Tuesday,
 “Cause on Friday we get pizza.

Now it’s Wednesday and we’re worried.
Yet we know we’re out of luck.
We just passed the kids from last lunch – 
They were running to up-chuck.

But we’re ready for most anything,
Even lumpy cream of wheats-a.
We can get through Wednesday,
‘Cause on Friday we get pizza.

It’s Thursday and we’re hangin’ in.
We know we’re getting close.
Then they hand me today’s lunch tray;
Looks like scrambled puke on toast.

But we’re ready for most anything:
Liver nuggets, mystery meats-a.
Yes, we can get through Thursday,
Cause on Friday we get pizza.

And now at last it’s Friday;
Our mood is cheerful and upbeat.
For most of us it’s been a week,
Since we had some lunch to eat.

So we wait calmly in the line;
We’ll be patient for our treats-a…
What? What’s that again? Oh, no!

You just ran out of pizza!!!!!

copyright 2013 by Russ Walsh

Monday, April 20, 2020

John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury and the Power Of Choice Reading

During my monthlong period of social isolation I have been re-reading several books by John Steinbeck: The Long Valley, Cannery Row, East of Eden. I have described Steinbeck as my favorite author since I was a 14-year-old in ninth grade at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in Levittown, PA in 1962. I became a Steinbeck reader by choice. I had never and have never been assigned to read a Steinbeck work, but I found my way to him, fell in love with his writing and his books have long held an honored place on my bookshelf and in my heart. Occasionally I pull them down and re-read them.

I discovered Steinbeck in my 9th grade English class. We had been assigned the reading of the novel Silas Marner, by George Eliot. I am sure Silas Marner is a great book. I am sure the school curriculum committee had very good reasons for choosing it. I also know that my 14-year-old mind was not ready to receive it with open arms or even open eyes. I didn’t read it then (I tried the first few chapters and gave in to a deep and satisfying sleep). Sitting in class as the teacher reviewed some early chapters in the book, I sat, trying not to make eye-contact so I wouldn’t be called on, rifling through the pages of the book. In the back of the text, I found the Steinbeck novella/folktale, The Pearl, appended for no apparent reason. I started to read The Pearl. I read it during class, at lunch, in study hall and in my room that night, instead of the next chapters of Silas Marner.

The next day I was unprepared for English class again, but I was a also a dedicated Steinbeck fan. I had finished the story. I had revelled in the wonderful way Steinbeck seemed to have with sentences and nuggets of moral insight. During homeroom I asked to go to the library, where a very helpful librarian led me to the few dusty volumes of Steinbeck she had on the shelves. I discovered that Steinbeck had written several novels and that many of them were blessedly short. During the next few years, I read Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, Sweet Thursday and Travels with Charley. Much later I would attempt his longer novels, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.

As an adult, Steinbeck has become a sort of independent study. On my shelves I have a wonderful book of his informative letters compiled after his death by his widow Elaine Steinbeck, a couple of biographies and several volumes of criticism, along with copies of everything the man has ever written: plays, photographic essays, logs of scientific explorations, reportage from WW2.

I tell this story to make the point that choice is critical as an aspect of the literary education of all children. While it is certainly the responsibility of teachers to provide children with instruction in the great works of literature, if we truly want our students to become life-long readers, we need to provide them with lots of time and opportunity for choice in their reading. Adolescence is a time when young people are searching for their own identity. The likelihood that they will find their identity in The Scarlet Letter or Oliver Twist or Silas Marner is not great. The chances that they might find that identity in authors that they have found through chance or guidance are much better. 

As I suggest with the word guidance, above, the teacher still has a role to play in choice reading. Many readers may not know what they would like. I certainly had never even heard of Steinbeck when I ran across him by chance. By knowing your students and by knowing the best of contemporary literature that is available to students of the ages you are teaching, you can foment interest by suggesting choices. I found when I was teaching seventh and eighth grade, that if I could get  reader started on an author, Chris Crutcher, Judy Blume, or Robert Cormier, for example, that student would also want to read other books by the same author.

Along with providing and guiding student choice, we must also be sure to provide time, in class, for students to read their choice books. This is not often easy in a crowded curriculum, but I believe it is necessary. Students need extended periods of quiet reading time to get truly engaged with books. With all the distractions at home, the best place for this to begin to happen may be the classroom. I found that this independent reading time was an important part of my instruction. While students read, I was able to go around and conference with individuals, check to see if the student had found the right book, discuss the book with the student, check comprehension, and even listen to an oral reading of the book to check for fluency. Some students, I am sure, saw these conferences as an intrusion, but others valued them as an opportunity to talk about what they were reading with another person. Structuring time for students to talk to each other is also an important part of an independent reading period.

A final story about the power of choice. My school chum, Warren, was an outstanding student, but I noticed that he did not show the same enthusiasm for English class that he did for the science classes, where he was always helping me to understand concepts that seemed to wiz by me. One day, I was over his house and we were playing in his tiny bedroom. I could not help but notice that his bookshelves were filled, chock-a-block, with paperback books. He appeared to have every Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and JRR Tolkien book ever written along with literally dozens of other science fiction and fantasy books and tons of comic books. When I asked about them, he said that these were the books he loved, but he rarely found any of them assigned at school, so he did all his best reading at home.

Choice – it is a powerful tool for those of us who want to create a reading habit that lasts a lifetime.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Poem to Celebrate National Librarians Day

Unquestionably, one of the great tragedies in public education over the last two decades has been the decline in the number of librarians employed by schools. Since we know that access to books is critical to the development of literacy and that librarians play a vital role in connecting children to books, this loss seems particularly horrific in an age when we seem obsessed with a perceived decline in literacy rates in the country.

Today is a day to celebrate librarians, both school librarians and public librarians. Librarians make a vital contribution to our society. Libraries are safe havens for readers and they help get books and information into people's hands. Here is a link to a post from several years ago, In Praise of School Librarians.  And  here is a little poem that celebrates libraries as a good place to read.

In the Library 

In the library, lost in the stacks,
Is a truly great place to hide.
I open a book, lean back and relax,
And enjoy the treasures inside.

n the library, so much to choose,
I can’t always make up my mind.
Chris Van Allsburg or Donald Crews,
Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein.

In the library, looking up facts,
Of things living and legendary.
Using atlases and almanacs,
Encyclopedias, the dictionary.

In the library, don’t make a sound.
No laughing or yelling – instead,
Just start in reading the book that you’ve found,
And turn on the noise in your head.

copyright 2013 by Russ Walsh

Know a librarian? Why not send them an appropriately socially distanced note of appreciation today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Book Review: A Practical Guide to Digital Research, by Mercedes Schneider

When I started this blog in earnest in 2013, one of the first names I learned was Mercedes Schneider and one of the blogs I read regularly was her duetsch29. Mercedes blog posts were so wonderful because she always, it seemed, delivered the goods. Whenever you thought some education reformster was up to no good, Mercedes found a way to dig up the information that proved what they were up to. She is intrepid, relentless, brilliant, and ruthless. Her work has been absolutely invaluable to anyone trying to shine a light on the backdoor dealings, profit-driven schemings, and devious proceedings of the proponents of educational reform. Now, Mercedes has written a book that shows us all how she does it.

In A Practical Guide to Digital Research (Garn Press) Schneider provides a clear road map for the digital researcher to follow. Need to find out what your local Broad trained superintendent is up to? Scheneider guides you in how to investigate the individual and get the goods, even when that individual has worked hard to conceal that they only have two years of actual teaching in Possawatamy Charter School in their educational background. Want to find out who is funding the reformster school board member who is running in your local election? Schneider shows you how. Want to investigate the wealthy donors behind some reformster organization? Step right up and follow Schneider's step-by-step plan.

The book is enriched by the stories of real life research successes that Schneider has had over the years and that have kept those of us who have had the fortune to read her regularly informed and entertained. Those stories include her great work in exposing the failures of reform in New Orleans, to finding out who is funding Eva Moskowitz in New York, to how Teach for America gained an outsized foothold in Chicago. These stories lend credence to her recommended method and give the reader confidence the methods will work.

This book is clearly written and easy to follow. Novice bloggers  and veteran researchers alike will find it invaluable as they continue to search for information which can illuminate our understanding of how the inner workings of reform are often working against the best interests of children, teachers, public education, and our country. Mercedes Schneider has, once again, performed an invaluable service for all of those interested in developing a vibrant and vital system of public education.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Celebrating Poetry Month: Poems From the School Hallways

Once more in honor of April being Poetry Month, here are three poems that all derived from incidents I observed during my more than 50 years in school hallways. Those hallways always seemed a beehive of activity to me. I try to capture some of that here.

These poems are from my book, There's a Giant in My Classroom, Infinity Press, 2013. Please feel to copy and use for classroom and instructional purposes.

Becky’s Hopping, Hopping, Hopping Down the Hall

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall,
And it doesn’t seem to bother her at all.
          Hopping left foot, hopping right,
          ‘Till she hops clear out of sight.
Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall,
Hopping more than any kid I can recall.
          Could it be that she’s part rabbit,
          Or is it just a nasty habit,
That keeps her hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.
Sees her classmates and hollers, “Hi, y’all.
          The day was bright and sunny,
          So, I’m hopping like a bunny.
Yes, I’m hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.”

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall,
And I’m hoping that she doesn’t take a fall.
          She just ran into Jim,
          Now she’s hopping over him!
Please stop hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.
She’s got more bounces than a basketball.
          With strong ankles, knees and thighs,
          She can out hop all the guys.
She’s still hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping out the door,
Past the ball field and the grocery store!
          Hopping up streets, hopping down
          Now she’s hopped clear out of town.
I’m not sure that we will see her anymore.

Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall,
And it doesn’t seem to bother her at all.
          Hopping left foot, hopping right,
          ‘Till she hops clear out of sight.
Becky’s hopping, hopping, hopping down the hall.

Walking Frontwards, Looking Backwards

Whenever Jamie leaves the room,
I fear she’s headed for a fall
‘Cause she’s walking frontwards, looking backwards
As she travels down the hall.

Walking frontwards, looking backwards,
It’s a habit, I suppose.
When you walk where you’re not looking,
Where you’ll end up, Heaven knows!

It was a week ago last Tuesday
(I believe I’ve got it right).
Walking through a deep, dark closet,
She gave herself a horrid fright.

Walking frontwards, looking backwards,
It’s a habit I suppose.
When you walk where you’re not looking,
You’ll get bruises on your nose.

She’s a menace in the hallways;
Where she’s walking, she can’t see.
She walked into the Principal,
And bashed him on the knee.

Walking frontwards, looking backwards
It’s a habit, I suppose,
When you walk where you’re not looking,
You might step on people’s toes.

We were walking to the art room,
Single file and looking fine.
The teacher signaled us to stop – and CRASH!
Jamie knocked down ten kids in line.

Walking frontwards, looking backwards,
It’s a habit, I suppose.
When you walk where you’re not looking,
You’re a danger to straight rows.

So if you walk front while looking back,
Remember Jamie, that poor soul.
She kept on looking backwards,
And walked---SMACK!  into a pole

Counting Tiles

I’m counting tiles upon the floor,
As I walk out the classroom door.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
Then there’s eight, nine, ten, eleven.

Turn the corner; keep going straight.
I count twelve through one-oh-eight.
The next one here is one-oh-nine,
Counting tiles – a hobby of mine.

Past the art room, that’s one-ten.
The next is one-eleven. Then
When at the bathroom I arrive,
I’ve counted up to two-oh-five.

While counting out two-fifty-two,
I step on some big person’s shoe.
Looking up, what do I see?
My teacher on two-fifty-three.

“Back to class,” teacher declares.
So, I cease with counting squares.
But tomorrow – I can’t wait ‘till then
I’ll be back counting tiles again.

copyright 2013 by Russ Walsh

Friday, April 10, 2020

Three Poems from the Child's Eye-View

I have always felt that to be a successful teacher, you had to be able to put yourself in the child's shoes occasionally and look at things from their point of view. That view can often be one of perplexity, confusion, exasperation, awe, wonder, fear, or joy. Here are three poems from my book There's a Giant in My Classroom (Infinity Publishing, 2013) that are attempts to look at things from the child's perspective.

Many Windows

The many windows of my class
Are like a giant screen TV
Showing the green and blue outdoors,
Which is where I’d like to be.

A squirrel skitters across a wire;
Birds flit from tree to tree.
Clouds in the shape of elephants
Float by in front of me.

Four baby rabbits and their mom
Appear behind the shed.
A butterfly, all orange and black
Lands in the flower bed.

A jet plane silent, high above,
Leaves a white streak in the sky.
A robin fails to find a worm,
Then comes back for one more try.

I hope my teacher can understand
The things that I’d be missin’;
If instead of gazing out windows,
I had to sit and listen.

The Spelling Curse

Of all the subjects I’ve taken at school,
Spelling’s the absolute worst.
I try to spell words correctly,
But my efforts all seem to be cursed.

The problem is plain (plane?), as I see it.
The words “worst” and “cursed” sound the same,
But their spelling’s entirely different.
I wonder who could be to blame.

If I could speak to the spelling lawmakers,
I’d ask that “curst” be spelled just like “wurst.”
It would certainly make me a happier child,
And in spelling I’d be better “vurst.”

Don’t Call on Me

Tommy didn’t read the story that his teacher had assigned,
And so he sat in silent terror with one thing on his mind.
“Don’t call on me!”
“Don’t call on me!”
“Don’t call on me! Please!”

Then Tommy tried to get real small and avoid the teacher’s gaze,
But teacher called out, “Tommy, I haven’t heard from you in days.”
“What can I say?”
“What can I say?”
“What can I say? Geez!”

Tommy started with a mumble, then a stammer and a grunt,
And finally teacher called for him to join her at the front.
“I’ve had it now!”
“I’ve had it now!”
“I’ve had it now! It’s true!”

Walking to the teacher, Tommy gazed up at her with sorrow,
Teacher smiled and whispered in his ear, “Just be ready for tomorrow.”
“She didn’t yell.”
“She didn’t yell.”
“She didn’t yell. Phew!”

That night Tommy read the story,
It was really pretty good.
And he’ll be forever grateful,
That his teacher understood.

Copyright 2013 by Russ Walsh

Teachers are given full permission to use these poems with their students as they see fit.