September 23, 2020

UW-Superior writing professor’s poem published by Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed doesn’t regularly publish poetry, but UW-Superior Professor of Writing Julie Gard’s poem, “An Invocation for Learning and Safety,” obviously struck a chord. The international online higher education publication shared Gard’s poem in its September 18 edition in its Career Advice section.

Gard wrote the poem for the university’s Enhancement Day, which provides professional development for UWS faculty and academic staff at the beginning of fall semester.

“All of us in higher education are teaching and working through a strange and stressful time,” said Gard. “How do we make sense of it? How do we keep true to our commitment to students and learning in such odd and unpredictable circumstances? I wrote this poem to make sense of things myself, with the hope that it might speak to other educators/humans as well.”

Gard hopes the poem will be a source of connection and a reminder to all educators that they are not alone in this time of uncertainty brought about by COVID-19.

“Teaching in a mask and with social distancing is definitely a challenge, since the writing classroom is a place for interaction and participation,” she said. “I miss being able to fully read students’ nonverbals during class, since I can’t see most of their faces. Also, it can definitely feel stressful to go into a situation with multiple people when I’ve been privileged to work from home and socially distance for most of the pandemic. What makes this feel doable is the sense that UW-Superior has put a lot of thought into necessary precautions and procedures, and that everyone on campus, very much including students, is taking part in maintaining a safe-as-possible environment. I’ve been extremely impressed by our students’ conscientiousness and concern for others. They want to make this work.”

Gard said she sees opportunity to use the poem in the creative writing course she is teaching and may even challenge her students to write a version of it from the student’s perspective.

An Invocation for Learning and Safety
By Julie Gard
(Shared with permission.)

Let me be brave in this time when I don’t feel brave.
Let me focus on the students on my screen
as the dog barks madly at the mailman,
the neighbor mows his lawn for the third time this week
and another American city erupts in pain.

Let me be strong when I feel like a misplaced astronaut:
mask over mouth, face shield on forehead, voice amplifier on hip.
I could laugh or cry at trying to teach this way, so let me
do both, take three deep breaths and walk into the classroom. 

Let us acknowledge fear, suffering and how those
who were already anxious are even more so. Let us ask for help
and accept it, and encourage our students to reach out.

Let us invent new ways of connecting: each Zoom meeting
a portal, each physical classroom a changed but dynamic space.
Let us redefine what community means, what
coming together means. Protect us from each other
as barriers also come down. Help us learn to live with paradox.

Let our students remember to get out of bed and get dressed
before logging on to class, and may they keep introducing us
to their dogs, cats, guinea pigs and parakeets. Let us move close
to their words and ideas, though we are six feetor thousands of miles away.

Let us look into eyes above masks, in pixels, for the first
or 500th time. Let us know each other through our writing,
codes and computations, and through the squint of a smile.
Let the physics experiment at home match the one in the lab;
let music breathe and beat and sway through microphones and screens.

Future educators watch current educators figure out how to educate in this time.
Future logisticians watch supply chains break and re-form.
Future lawyers and police officers watch -- and some take part in --
protests and social uprisings. Historians-in-training watch history take shape;
creative writers watch the lines between fantasy and realism
blur and blend until one is the other. 

So let us plan and improvise, pivot and flex.
Let us share, collaborate, mix and integrate.
Let ingenuity coexist with fear, compassion
with defense, humor with darkness. Let us be real
with each other, touchstones for each other.

And let us take care of ourselves. Bring on the lake,
the video games, the sourdough, the woods,
the Bach and punk; bring us everything that keeps
us going. And everything we wish for ourselves,
let us wish it for our students, and everything we wish
for our students, let us wish it for ourselves. 

To live an altered life that is still full of meaning,
to keep learning and dreaming in a time of crisis,
to let crisis influence us but not dissuade us
so that it’s not our roadblock, but our material. 

Let us continue this experiment together,
with every precaution possible, borne of commitment,
curiosity and love. Let us be open to transformation. 

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