The Tale of Teacherless El

This past week included National Poetry Day.   So, in honor of this little known holiday (Did you get any Poetry Day cards or gifts from friends?  Me neither!) I offer you this contribution, as a follow up to my last post about the teacher shortage.


The Tale of Teacherless El

In a land not far away and a day called today,

A school changed its name, as it had something to say,

From a President’s name in all its glory,

To one that better told the authentic story.

High in the sky a new marquee shone bright,

Announcing its title – although wrong,  it felt right.


Teacherless  El was an odd thing to say,

But the school could not pretend everything was ok,

But still the families came, their children in tow,

Pulling them along, like some precious cargo,

As they peered into dark windows, faces to glass,

Isn’t it time?  Where is the class?


Teacherless El?” one mother asked,

What name is this, where is the last?

“Where have they gone?” asked yet another,

‘Where can they be?” asked a sister of a brother.

Yelling at no one a father chimed in,

“No teachers at our school?  You must let us in!”


The playground was here, the bike racks too,

But the classrooms were empty, what to do?

“Not quite empty,” a voice,  a cracked door,

“There’s still one person –  I’m minding the store,”

“The Principal!” cried parents and students alike,

“He can fix this, he’ll fix it, get teachers off strike?


“Not a strike, not a strike,” he said stepping out,

“For to strike you need people, and we are without.

You see we warned you for years, for months and for days,

That teachers were leaving and they found other ways,

Tired of patronization, mandates, and small amends,

They found fruitful pathways for their talents.”


To Principal’s claim and to his decree,

They wondered aloud what was to be,

“But you’ve always been here, you’re always around,

And we did not know – there was no countdown!”

“But yes!” Principal said, “Indeed there was, 

For years we warned and described to you laws.”


A mother cried as her child looked lost,

“But you told me all was well, the school earned applause.

Labels and accolades, test scores galore,

You promised us a future, you promised us more,

How can this be, how could we have known,

The bottom had collapsed you were worn to the bone.”


“And there was the problem,” Principal said with a sigh,

“To keep you from leaving us, we faked our heads high,

Like vultures they picked at us and the pain we knew,

At sites to share our troubles?  To share was taboo.

But to keep our house together?  To make you assured,

We smiled and waved, while the problem matured.”


“Our leaders warned many by speaking of strife,

But it didn’t feel local, you didn’t feel the knife, 

But we had no options, no preferable path,

Fully honest would kill us, the pretend delayed wrath,

For directed at us, we knew it would be,

But the applicants, the applicants, we wished you could see!”


“Classes with students but not Teacher assigned,

Days until school starts and I was maligned,

I had wished I could show you from what I could choose,

A vacant class or a poor teacher – either way, we all lose.

I calmed your fears, assured all would be right,

But nobody was there, no savior, no knight.”


“I’d rather be Teacherless  than give you what’s left,

For the good ones are gone by other fields a theft.”

The families were amazed, a new normal had come,

But this was their school, and they were community alum.

And they cried as Principal went back to the door,

His goal once again, minding an empty store.


Lost the families felt, as they all stood in a daze,

The chains of missing tether balls softly clanging away,

Yet, once again Principal through the doorway leaned out,

To tell them one more thing, to whisper not shout,

“Listen said he, stay here I will, 

In hopes we can weather this poison pill.”


“Start over again, let’s rebuild from the core,

From student and teacher, there is nothing more,

Do what it takes for us to bring our best,

For you bring us yours from your sacred nest,

And love them you do with all of your soul,

You should expect the talented in their Teachers’ roles.”
“Learning from our errors, locally honest we must be,

But you must press on the deciders, relentlessly,

For the troubles before were but a symptom,

Of a disease, a scourge and we all played victim.

Invest in generations, invest in them all,

And, we hope to still be here in our empty halls.”


“Yes, we pray we can be here, we’ve been all along,

But sustain that we couldn’t, in spite of our song.

The rooms that are empty can fill once again,

Invest in our shepherds – and we’ll guide them in.

And again hold us accountable, but give us access,

To talent that soars in the pursuit of success.”


Said a mother, “But what of the name, what of Teacherless El,

Forever, forever, infinite zero personnel?”

But the door had slammed shut with no click of a lock,

And the parents they sensed a soft after-shock.

What would they do, who could they tell,

That a school should never be known as

Teacherless El.”













Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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