Once upon a sixth grade dreary

I meant to post this yesterday, which was the anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday. Ah, well, better late than never.

My sixth grade teacher for English and reading was Mr. Koliha. One of the year-long projects he had for us was the memorization of poetry. We started with at least five lines (a lot of limericks that first week), and each succeeding week the minimum number of lines grew by one. Of course, being an obnoxious little show-off at the time, I rarely did the minimum.

There was a boy in class who gave me a run for my money, though. One week, I decided to show just how good I was, and I set out to memorize “The Raven.” Sadly, I only got about 3/4 of it down pat. Mr. Koliha gave me credit for that because it was so much longer than necessary. The boy, the week following (or had it been the week preceding? Memory goes vague on the details.) recited “The Bells,” grinning mischievously the whole time.

I still don’t know “The Raven” by heart. (Perhaps I’ll work on that again this year.) Why does that one poem — or parts of it, and my work on it — still stick in my brain decades later, when I can’t recall anything else I did? Maybe because I picked the furthest, most difficult target I could and worked toward it, and discovered that there was some success even though I didn’t reach my goal. Maybe because it was one of my first tastes of not always being the best. Maybe because Poe has always been an inspiration to me.

Life has gone on, and many things have changed, but those core truths have not. I still enjoy Poe. I’m not always the best. And I always reach for outrageous goals.

What about you? Do you have any lessons from your schooling and early years that have stuck with you through time? Share them in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading.

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  1. I had a similar experience in fifth grade. We were working on poetry and Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” was celebrating its 20th anniversary. We were given 2 days to pick a poem from the collection to memorize and recite in front of the class. Well, most of the class picked the shorter poems but I thought that I would really impress everyone, including the teacher, with my mad memorizing skills. But, alas I was full of myself so I thought, “Psh, I don’t need 2 days to memorize this.” So, I put it off until the morning I needed to recite it. Let’s just say my ego was severely deflated at the end of the day, which is to be expected. I barely remembered the first verse!
    So, what did I learn from this? It’s ok to challenge yourself, encouraged even, but give yourself enough time to actually work towards your goal. I may want to become a published author, but sitting around doing nothing isn’t going to make that dream come true.

    • Ouch! A painful learning experience, but one you’ve put to good use.

      (For their class book reports on poetry books, my son’s teacher made them write one out, read a second in class, and memorize a third. He picked Shel Silverstein, too. His teacher insisted one of the poems he should do is “Obedience.” I think that’s the one he read. He memorized “Stupid Pencil” — and keeps wandering around the house reciting it just because he can.)

      Good luck with your time and work — you’ll reach your goal, I know!

  2. That’s a very good poem to remember for this long 🙂

    The only thing I remember having to really memorize is the Lutheran catechism. I used to know the entire small catechism by heart (required for confirmation), and big chunks of the large catechism. There’s a poem called Black Marigolds that I sometimes recall passages of when I can’t sleep, but that most certainly wasn’t for school:

    Even now
    My eyes that hurry to see no more are painting, painting
    Faces of my lost girl. O golden rings,
    That tap against cheeks of small magnolia leaves,
    O whitest so soft parchment where
    My poor divorced lips have written excellent
    Stanzas of kisses, and will write no more.

    (Black Marigolds

    • That’s only one of 50 stanzas, BTW…

    • The catechism sounds similar to the requirement of Catholics to learn the Apostles’ Creed. Makes sense — you should know what you’re agreeing that you believe before you become a full member of the church.

      I’m going to have to read that poem in full; the stanza you quoted is beautiful.

  3. The one that stands out for me was my third grade teacher forcing me to read. As much as I hated her at the time, she changed my life forever.

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