Cast Away

Nothing a child ever does is trash. It is practice. 

Nothing by Naomi Shihab Nye, Cast Away

Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye was Kent School’s Kudner Leyon Visiting Writer in May 2017, my first year at the School. I could not wait to welcome her to my new school by the river. We met in the urban-ness of my former city school, and I was eager to show my friend the beautiful river views and lush farm lands surrounding my school.

That visit indelibly marks my first year as a new Head of School. Naomi brought me strength, disguised as olive oil soap, when she arrived on my campus. Strength also arrived as her driver, my friend, mentor, and former Head of School Jean Brune. My time with Naomi and Jean over a two day period meant everything to me. I began to breathe in my new role.

Flash forward to nearly three years later. As I sit with my coffee staring out across the porch on this cold, February morning, I am reading Naomi’s newest collection of poems for our time, Cast Away. I am remembering her smile on my porch as she gazed at the tidal river. Her notebook, everpresent, so she could jot a note or a phrase she particularly loved in the moment it was uttered and still in the air. 

Reading these poems today, and thinking about how much we have thrown away in our lives, I am literally struck silent by Three Wet Report Cards on Camden Street. It is a coincidence, or maybe not, that on Friday we held a professional learning workshop for Kent School faculty specifically addressing what assessments tell us. Naomi is speaking to me this morning from San Antonio, and I am listening. In 20 years, reports cards will be lost, thrown away, smudged and bare. Teachers don’t want to be remembered on a report card. All teachers really want is to help create and witness the spark of discovery and passion in their students’ day to day experiences. Why does our educational system place so much emphasis on grades? They likely won’t matter much in a child’s future.

Nothing a child ever does is trash, yet we cannot keep every single piece of practice over a decade and a half of schooling. There are still two large storage boxes for each of my three children in my basement. They made the move to Chestertown, treasures to be saved and never looked at, cast away by my adult children. Now, it is time to cast them away for good. Keeping some memories is healthy, keeping everything is not. There is always a time to let go of material collections and free yourself of the past.

Makes me think about what is really important in a purposeful life – people and experiences, not things that can fit in a storage box in the basement.

Three Wet Report Cards on Camden Street
Sorry, all that homework
and now even your own name
has washed away
Report cards from the late 1970s
dumped in a clump
smudgy grades
Teacher Comment areas bare
Was someone moving and 
they fell out of a box?
I'm tempted to leave them
lying by the curb behind
the Catholic school
feeling great sadness
for the hard work of teachers
filling in so many little boxes
dreary evaluating and judging
when what teachers love best
is that spark of discover
that great question
the shy person
finally speaking from the stage

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