06 April 2012

O Captain! My Captain!


I was never one of those wildly popular teachers who stood on desks, ripped pages out of textbooks, or spoke with a bellowing voice (think Dead Poets Society).  My approach was less showy but equally compassionate and filled with high expectations and a love for poetry.    In fact, I used to say poetry was part of the reason I chose to teach English over social studies.

There are two times each year when I become especially nostalgic for the classroom—in the fall when it’s time to welcome back former students and greet new students, and in the spring when it’s close to graduation and students are all a buzz with their minds focused on life beyond high school.

Inspired by a college graduation invitation received in the mail yesterday, I dug out old notes of appreciation from former students.  I still have some notes and pictures from my early days of teaching on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina, and of course, there are notes from my students right here in Lexington, Kentucky.

One of those notes was from a student who addressed me--O Captain! My Captain! Now, if that isn’t one of the most honorable ways to address a teacher, I don’t know what is.  

Today’s Favorite Text Friday is the poem by Walt Whitman O Captain!  My Captain! 

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,
      the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
      While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!
      O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.
      O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for
      you the bugle trills… keep reading  

Walt Whitman may be one of the dead white authors, who garner much criticism for being part of the Cannon, but it’s still important to read authors like Whitman, and it’s essential to me that I share this poem with my young sons, who enjoy poetry along with me.  They like to hear me recite it, read it, and they like to read it to me as well.  Last night we read Whitman’s poem as a tribute to the interest my 8 year old has in Abraham Lincoln.  But, we also read it so I could relive a nostalgic memory of my days as a high school teacher.  

Spring break adventure to Lincoln Homestead in Springfield, Kentucky.
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