I don’t teach subjects; I teach students.

I don’t teach students. I teach XBox. I teach IPod and Halo and mp3. I teach rockbands and breakdancers newbies and posers. I teach Nexopia Facebook and online bullying. I teach the narrow line between slipshod parenting and overbearing media petstrings. I teach down the aisle of a test score supermarket. I teach Jason Mraz and Hannah Montana and Saw one through five. I teach hockey and snowboarding, Oilers and Flames. I teach Gretzky, Iginla and Lanny McDonald. I teach the gay kid raised atheist and sent to a Catholic school, and the angry black-haired white chick with the knee-high shit-kickers and a home-pierced beauty mark stud that looks infected. I teach family life and human sexuality to kids who stay up till three watching free clips of internet porn on their flash media players. I teach the loud and the boisterous and the timid and the angry and the giddy and the waiting for something meaningful to tap me on the shoulder. I teach test-taking and desk-sitting and holding it till the bell rings. I teach snowstorms and Chinooks and Oil and Recession. I teach bundles of insecurity and helplessness wrapped in grape-scented lip gloss with glitter. I teach giggles and taunting and text-message flirting. I teach body odour and boners and pants put on backwards by accident. I teach digital SMARTBoard PowerPoint presentations and chewing the inside of your cheek to bite back the sobs. I teach the kid whose parents just don’t know what to do anymore. I teach the kid with a ninety-three and the kid with a thirty-nine. I teach e-mails and phone calls and missing assignments. I teach mohawks and cut marks and brothers with cancer. I teach band-aids. I teach chewed-up pencils and Red Bull and Jolt. I teach in a vacuum that’s sucked up everything good and pure about being human and sat it in desks right in front of me. I teach the treasures of our future and the most significant beings in existence. I teach blues skies and grey skies and rivers with beavers. I teach beauty and hope and something so perfect it can’t be contained. I teach life in a whirlwind that would go on without me. I teach nothing. I teach speechless at the front of a boiling sea of rage and discontent that’s shrouded in a mist of indifference. I teach home. I teach away. I teach hate. I teach love. I teach faith. I teach the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. I teach fear and guilt and forgiveness. I teach control. I teach worth. I teach effort and marks and report cards. I teach subjects.

~ Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry is a junior high school teacher in Calgary, and a creative writing student at the University of Calgary. Much of his writing is inspired by his work as a teacher. His poems have appeared in The Prairie Journal, NoD Magazine, and The Gauntlet. He is currently working on his MFA in Creative Writing through the optional-residency program at UBC. He is grateful to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for their financial support of his current writing project, a book-length manuscript of teacher poems, as well as his students, for driving him to write poetry. He and his wife have a one-and-a-half-year-old son.

“Students may not call school home, but in many ways it is their home. It is a place that helps shape their lives—where they meet friends and make enemies, where they learn, cheat, fight, fall in love again and again and again. It is a place where they can be surrounded by people yet feel completely alone. School is an amazing world that is in such a constant state of flux that, for anyone to try and grasp it fully seems to me an impossible task. My writing is an attempt to grope at some semblance of understanding of the complex world of school in all its idiosyncrasies.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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