Fame: First Day of School Thoughts

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“Famous” is not a word generally associated with education.  When we chose our profession as teachers we knew this, but today I wish to challenge that notion.  Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Famous, brings to mind so much that we are embarking on as we welcome a new year of students.

Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.


The loud voice is famous to the silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.


The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the birdhouse.


The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.


The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.


The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.


The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it

and not famous at all to the one who is pictured.


I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the ones who smiled back.


I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot what it could do.


This job we are in was never meant for fame.  At least not in the way society and politics project it.  Because loudness, and grandeur, and “look at mes” simply have no place in our profession.  Our fame finds itself playing by a different set of rules.  Fame that is instead found through the meaningful, and the quiet, and the purposeful.  In the connections.  In the moments where we never forget what we can do and what we are truly capable of.

Because, really, each of you is famous.

Famous to the kid who speaks no English, but hears you greet him in his native tongue.

Famous to the kid, who, for the first time in months entered a space today where people were excited to see him.

Famous to the kid who was scared until he saw your smile and welcoming learning space.

Famous to the kid who thinks he won’t succeed this year because you’ve already told him of the potential you see within him.

Famous to the kid who hates to read, because today he walked to a desk holding a stack of books just for him and knew his teacher has already started to learn about his as a reader.

Famous to the kid who never speaks out because today you found time to tell him much you hope he finds his voice this year.

Famous. Famous for a million more reasons we will likely never know.

Yes, fame looks a lot different here.  And so the question is: How will you be famous to your kids this year?  Let each of us never forget no only what we can do, but also what our students can do.  There’s so much waiting inside of them to grow and explore. Our mission is to find, bring it out, and celebrate it.  That’s when we can get loud.