Friday, October 18, 2013

the dishwasher of my mind

This is going to be one of those posts where I attempt to connect and convey quite a few overlapping ideas; luckily all teachers in Maryland have the day off in case they want to attend the state NEA convention, so I have some extra time today.  I'll be spending it with you all on Poetry Friday and in the Garage, but getting a late start, because sometimes a girl just has to sleep in.

Yesterday I heard this fascinating piece on NPR about new research regarding the role of sleep in animals, including humans.  Why we need to sleep is a question that has puzzled scientists, because in terms of the survival of any species, sleep is costly--way too many opportunities for an individual's entire genome to be snapped up off the face of the earth in the dark of night.

It's beginning to look like the function of sleep is to shut down other processes of the brain so that it can be flushed--literally flushed--by an influx of cerebral spinal fluid that washes away the toxic waste proteins accumulated during a day of learning, thinking, problem-solving, remembering.  In fact, brains that don't have an efficient sleeptime plumbing system to remove proteins like amyloid-beta are brains which have neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's.

This question of sleep is on my mind too, because as in many school districts, we've been having a push to Start School Later, especially for adolescents, whose sleep cycles shift with the onset of puberty.  When a kid's melatonin (the sleepy hormone) doesn't kick in until 11pm or midnight, and then she has to get up at 5:50am to catch a bus to high school that starts at 7:25, a kid is routinely missing out on 3-4 hours of the sleep time that allows her brain to perform that essential cleansing process.  Here's some info on what other effects this ritual abuse of our young people can have on them and on the rest of us, courtesy of the national organization Start School Later.

Here in Montgomery County, MD, a surprising thing recently happened--the newish Superintendent of Schools read all the findings of our SSL Work Group and recommended that we actually move towards doing it!  Start time for high school would be pushed back to 8:15 and middle school would stay roughly the same at 7:45. Elementary schools would start at 8:45, as now, but have the school day extended by 30 minutes to allow the staggered triple school bus runs that we currently depend on.  I have high hopes that we can work this out over the next year--it's a win-win and a good step towards better aligning the  schedules and calendars of working families and schools.

But, you may ask, where is the poetry in all this?  Well, on Wednesday I spent 3.5 hours in chair reviewing and planning the entire kindergarten curriculum for Marking Period 2 at high speed.  By the end my head was spinning and I thought, "This is what our kiddos feel like every day!" We have a highly compressed kindergarten day in which we attempt teach a huge mass of concepts, skills and indicators without sufficient time to balance it all with a relaxed lunch, sufficient recess, or indoor creative play. At the end of our meeting, our Staff Development Teacher acknowledged that we had been "jambarded" by information, and a poem was seeded.  (Thanks for the great word, Joelle Thompson!)

The last thing you need to know is that this year our school serves universal breakfast in the classroom, which is a great thing with a lot of unintended consequences for instructional time and also tabletop cleanliness.

The dishwasher of my mind

Happy happy Tuesday
I've been up since 6 o'clock
the password at the door is like
this is how we walk in line
(does my name contain a b?
what to choose for lunch?)
after breakfast and announcements
(read the job chart, pledge allegiance,
total rainfall and respect)

the plates
in my brain
are already
"whole grain" cinnamon buns
sticky bombs of how-to-do-it
protein packs of need-to-know
jammy wraps of chant-it-fast

morning meeting, hello greeting
(say the rhyme sit down stand up)
plans and practice sounds and spelling
Quiet Reading all four steps and why
why do we quiet-read?
(shaky egg the Teacher Table
reading groups fly in and out)
she won't know unless I read it
date it draw it what's my center?
now clean up

the bowls
in my brain
are filled to
maple syrup-flavored pancakes
fudgy sauce of mix-and-fix
fatty folder-fill-it worksheets
spicy soup of story time

now it's time for lunch.
It's loud.

I need a chance to wash my dishes,
rinse and scrub and scour my brain,
clean off all the dried-on layers,
greasy gunk of what I learned,
sizzled residue of thinking.

Can't I lay my head inside a
shiny box with glowing buttons,
start the cycle,
take a nap?

~Heidi Mordhorst
    draft 2013

The Poetry Friday round-up today is with Cathy at Merely Day by Day.  I see her Teachers Writing badge, and I'm glad to have the chance to be one!


  1. What a great poem, Heidi. Thanks for sharing the interesting facts about sleep and toxic brain waste!

  2. Love the way you've jambarded this poem with the demands of a kindergartner's day...and that you've included images of this interesting new research!

  3. I hoped you would stop by for a little dirtying of some tasty dishes, Jama! Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Love it, Heidi! You really filled that poem with jambardment! Love the back-story as well!

  5. "Sizzled residue of thinking." Yes!

  6. Isn't it sad that even the day of a kindergartener has gotten so busy. Your short phrases and choice of words really helps your poem to feel the craziness of the day.


  7. Gads! You captured the jambardment of kindergarten specifically...and of a school day in general!

    I had a nice, brain-cleansing sleep-in this morning!

  8. Heidi,
    Thanks for the instructional post.
    I like your poem a lot. It has lots of potential for playing with form and changing lay out/line breaks.
    Enjoy your sleep in.

  9. Your poem is full of great words, food words, dishwashing word, words that fill that pliable kindergarten mind. I slept late this morning; I couldn't believe the clock read 8:00 when I woke up, but my dishwasher mind needed it. And now I do not feel guilty at all. Thanks!

  10. Thanks for all the links, Heidi, I've got lots of reading to do!

  11. Hi, Heidi. I think the dishwasher is a great metaphor for a mind always cycling from one thing to the next. Your poem really captures that busy day. (Loved the protein packed breakfast goodies.)

  12. Just happened across this poem this morning. What a great analogy. So, so true of school. How little time we give kids to actually be and grow into themselves. You make me think of a line from another poem, I think it's by Myra Cohn Livingston, "It takes a lot of slow to grow."


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!