Students will be able to (SWBAT)

To the people
who speak about American education
like they know
how it feels to ruffle the curls
of a boy who
was kept in an oven
before they sent his father to jail

Who ask me why I sit
on carpet, concrete, ground, floor
before standing above a child
Who think thrown money
is something a child would bother to catch
when they’ve just read their first book
I bought for a quarter
at a secondhand store

For my students
covered in grease burns
from working the night shift
at their family restaurants,
who keep half their lunch
smashed in their pocket
for supper,
who ask for hugs
even though I am not supposed to
touch them

For my students
who translate for their parents,
explain softly
that the red dot
means far below proficient
Who love simple things
like new words,
their own cup of paint,
a sticker, a fist bump,
Monday mornings
and a chance to say
the announcements in a system
they keep
from being broken

small voices
small bodies
small hands

able to

(SWBAT is an acronym for “Students will be able to.” Most educators in the D.C. public school system were required to write a SWBAT statement in a visible place so that administrators or visitors from the downtown offices knew what the objective of their lesson was and the Common Core skills it was teaching. Teachers were also required to go over it with the students.

As an elementary school librarian, I was required to write a SWBAT statement during “library lessons” from 2011 to 2013. I wrote an early draft of this poem in 2014 and am revisiting it now, two years since I left my work in the public schools. I still think about my students every day.)

writer & former librarian • A LIGHT forthcoming from Chicago Review Press 2022 • amandaoliver.comtinyletter.com/decorouslines

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