What Our Students Tell Us

In trolling around Facebook tonight as I procrastinated the always agonizing act of making my kids’ lunches (Why is it so mind-numbingly annoying? It’s just lunch!), a friend of mine posted a great poem that kinda rocked my world.

I must give background about this friend/acquaintance/neighbor: She teaches at Stuyvesant High School (Stuy), one of the best high schools not only in NYC but in our country. I met her a a party of a ex-coworker/teacher of mine who had left our struggling inner city high school when he landed a job teaching English at Stuy. I will openly admit to being a judgmental twat about those who chose to teach at a fancy pants public school versus those of us who chose to stay in our drowning inner city schools, but, for the record, thankfully, I have worked past those feelings. With this in mind, when I met her I didn’t want to like her, but soon I would be sucked into her charm, her hilarious band called Menage a Twang, our common pain re: writing and defending a dissertation, and the fact that she was dating and is now married to one of the first lesbian women that I ever met and became friends with in undergrad, Michelle. Now I heart Emily.

She learned of this poem from a place called The Academy for Teachers–a newish initiative that sounds awesome for all you teachers in the tri-state area. I guess you have to be nominated by a Fellow (anyone who has attended a Master Class and who was therefore nominated before by someone else) to participate, but it looks amazing, especially since professional development is notoriously agonizing. Go get yourselves nominated. Check it out: http://academyforteachers.org/

But what I loved most about the poem is that our students deliver us  messages constantly, and it’s up to us to decode what they are trying to say. Of course, I teach students who are beyond the phonetic spelling of words (mostly…!), but sometimes their communication is just as cryptic and it’s only through reading, rereading, talking, talking again, writing, rewriting, and chipping away to figure out who they are that what they are trying to tell me that the meaning comes through.

And finally, here’s the poem:


for Estefani Lora, PS 132, Washington Heights

by Aracelis Girmay


Elephant on an orange line, underneath a yellow circle
meaning sun.
6 green, vertical lines, with color all from the top
meaning flowers.


The first time I peel back the 5 squares of Scotch tape,
unfold the crooked-crease fold of art class paper,
I am in my living room.

It is June.
Inside of the card, there is one long word, & then
Estefani’s name:


Estefani Lora




Loisfoeribari: The scientific, Latinate way of saying hibiscus.


Loisfoeribari: A direction, as in: Are you going
North? South? East? West? Loisfoeribari?


I try, over & over, to read the word out loud.
Loisfoeribari. LoISFOeribari.
LoiSFOEribari. LoisFOERibARI.


What is this word?

I imagine using it in sentences like,

“Man, I have to go back to the house,
I forgot my Loisfoeribari.”


“There’s nothing better than rain, hot rain,
open windows with music, & a tall glass
of Loisfoeribari.”


“How are we getting to Pittsburgh?
Should we drive or take the Loisfoeribari?”


I have lived 4 minutes with this word not knowing
what it means.


It is the end of the year. I consider writing my student,
Estefani Lora, a letter that goes:

To The BRILLIANT Estefani Lora!

Hola, querida, I hope that you are well. I’ve just opened the card that
you made me, and it is beautiful. I really love the way you filled the sky with
birds. I believe that you are chula, chulita, and super fly! Yes, the card
is beautiful. I only have one question for you. What does the word
‘Loisfoeribari’ mean?


I try the word again.


I try the word in Spanish.

& then, slowly,

Lo is fo e ri bari
Lo is fo eribari


love is for everybody
love is for every every body love
love love everybody love
everybody love love
is love everybody
everybody is love
love love for love
for everybody
for love is everybody
love is forevery
love is forevery body
love love love for body
love body body is love
love is body every body is love
is every love
for every love is love
for love everybody love love
love love for everybody

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