“Doing Time” by Peter E. Murphy

Peter E. Murphy


Each week my supervisor rejected
my lesson plans because my goals
and objectives were the same.
When I asked him to explain the difference,
he changed the subject. When I asked why
the syllabus makes no sense, he said,
You’re not being paid to think, you’re
being paid to deliver a curriculum.
When I asked how to teach teenagers
who can’t read to read, he put a hand
on my shoulder, and with the other
pointed toward the horizon, which happened
to be the men’s room at the end of the corridor,
and said, Take them where they are.
When I turned to ask what that meant,
he was gone. I figured he was off to help
another teacher or meet a parent, but when
I saw him first in line at the lunch counter,
I knew I was wrong again.
I also knew I wasn’t meant to teach
anything important to the dark-skinned
students that sat in front of me.
Like them, I was meant to fail.
And because I was teaching stupid kids,
I figured I must be stupid too.
Even if I wanted to, I’d never be promoted
to supervisor like him. So, I thought,
Screw it, and I read my kids a poem
about nature, and they said, Man,
that’s dumb. So I read them a poem
about love, and they said, Man,
that’s stupid. So I read them a poem
about sports, and they said, Man,
that’s nice. So I read them a poem
about death, and they said, Man,
that’s deep. Then I read them a poem
that said something about their lives
they didn’t know they knew, and they
said, Let me hold that, pulling it
from my hands, reading it over and over,
until they said, Why ain’t nobody
ever told us this shit before?
And I said, You’ve got to be careful.
If they know how much you really know,
instead of more schools, they’ll build
more prisons to teach you a lesson.

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019


Peter E. Murphy: “My wife has been teaching Spanish and French to high school kids for more than 40 years. She is a saint. Ella es una santa. C’est une sainte. I quit after 29 years. I am a wimp. I taught in an urban school and was sent to the ER five times, but I was never assaulted by a student I knew. My students were protective, said they would get whoever it was and beat them up. ‘Doing Time’ reflects on the frustration that I, and many of my colleagues, and many of my students, felt as another school year snaps closed its suitcase and goes to work.” (web)


Peter E. Murphy was the guest on episode #22 of the Rattlecast! Click here to watch …

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