For poet Stanley Kusunoki, the path to the classroom began with poetry.
“Poetry literally got me into the classrooms,” said the author. “I was teaching kids poetry in schools through places like The Loft and S.A.S.E., The Write Place, and I was really enjoying what I was doing.”
A friend suggested that he take it to the next level and go back to school to become a teacher. She introduced him to the Collaborative Urban Educator (CUE) Program at the University of St. Thomas College of Education, Leadership & Counseling. The CUE Program is a partnership between the university and the state of Minnesota offering graduate level teacher licensure through a state grant.
That was more than 10 years ago. Kusunoki finished the CUE Program’s ninth cohort in 2000 and is currently a high potential coordinator at Red Oak Elementary in Shakopee Public Schools. Since he’s been in the classroom, Kusunoki has filled a stack of blank books with notes and reflections about his experiences as a teacher.
“Instead of keeping a regular journal or diary, for me it made sense to write my reflections in the form of poetry,” he said. His poems were born out of an incident or something a student said that stuck with him have a sense of being in the moment. “Sometimes there’s something every day and other times nothing will really ‘jazz’ me for a week or so,” Kusunoki said. “But then something will happen and I’ll think ‘I gotta write that down’.”
10 Years in the Making
A culmination of 10 years’ worth of notes and poetry has just been published in Kusunoki’s first book of poems entitled 180 Days: Reflections and Observations of a Teacher.
“It’s a bit of an inside joke for teachers,” he said of the title, which references the number of school days in a year.
180 Days… provides an intimate view of a teacher’s work day as he travels from September to June, guiding the learning of his young charges in the critical years of elementary school. The collection of poems offers several different facets of being an educator: first as a teacher and observer of the profession and students; as a continuing learner with students at the Young Authors Conference; as school documentarian and historian; and finally as a mentor highlighting the work of students.
The book, released March 1, 2015 by North Star Press, takes the reader from schools in the heart of the inner city to the suburbs, from the classroom to subbing for special education – all reflecting on the challenges, joys, and opportunities for personal learning that make up a teacher’s day.
Suitcases, Backpacks and Hot Chocolate
Although he believes it is like choosing a favorite child, Kusunoki reluctantly shares he is most drawn to his poem “Intermediate Level One” which tells of an incident involving a fourth grade classmate he recalls from his own time as an elementary school student.
An excerpt from the poem reads: ‘…leaving us shaking our heads and looking at Allen in all his guises. Still just a kid with big grown up suitcases clipped to his backpack dragging him further and further behind, and us not so much teachers, but locksmiths hoping to pick the combination that will set him free.’
When writing this poem, Kusunoki thought of his classmate in today’s society with now recognized behaviors being named and diagnosed and put into context of what reality really is for kids in this world.
“Are the kids any different? No,” he says. “The kids that have suitcases clipped to their backpacks whatever it is, are the same whether they’re in Edina or the inner city. Our job [as a teacher] is to help them get rid of that baggage.”
As a teacher-mentor, it was important for Kusunoki to highlight students’ work and ensure their voices were a part of the book. The student poetry featured in 180 Days… comes from the fourth and fifth grade students he takes to the annual Young Authors Conference. Students reflect on the conference through poetry and from this Kusunoki creates an anthology. “They’re all pretty amazing, but ‘Booklin’ stood out the most to me.” “Booklin” tells of a place where there’s a library of large – in fact, oversized – books. Visitors are served hot chocolate next to the fireplace and all you do is read.
“How cool would that be?” he said. “It’s a place where I think I would want to go to after teaching.”
Learn more about Stanley Kusunoki or purchase your copy of 180 Days: Reflections and Observations, at www.poeteacher.com.
The CUE Program is dedicated to bringing people from underrepresented populations, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and other unique urban backgrounds into specific high need license areas in the teaching profession. Learn more about the College of Education, Leadership & Counseling and the CUE Program at www.stthomas.edu/celc.
Are you an alumnus/alumna of the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling who is interested in sharing your story? Contact us at email@example.com.