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The Metamorphosis

by Marlena Johns

What do I say of the place where I spent 20 years of my life?

Standing, sitting, kneeling, stretching, bowing down

It is evolving.

It is devolving.

It is chaos incarnate.

It is absolute symmetry.

The smile and the light in a student’s eyes, revelation


is as beautiful as a sunrise turning into a butterfly that flies off into the great blue unknown.

The furrow of concentration is also a thing of wonder.


But when that butterfly is forced to bang his head against the same brick wall

That will not budge, or bend, or crack

That wall called testing.

And WE have to lead that broken winged butterfly to that wall-

Knowing that he cannot climb it, or fly around it, or burrow under it, or go through it because of


Skill deficits



Poor concentration

Text anxiety

The inner voice that has him defeated before pencil hits paper


When we have to hand him that test and that pencil and that answer document

And watch for 5 hours as he batters himself through reading and writing

Knowing that he sees nothing of the beauty of the words,

Only the fog of misunderstanding.

Knowing that even if he thinks of the perfect thing to say . . . it will come out

Back, side, upside down,

 garbled  beyond recognition.

A little of us dies.

A little piece of our sanity crawls in a corner and howls at the moon.


For we are a part of the machinery of the world that is grinding him to bits

 Telling him once again that he won’t make it,

 That he’s not good enough

Feeding him  inadequacy with each circle that he bubbles in.

And we do it in December, and in March and we talk about it so many times that the words

Feel  like dust and death on our tongues

Fingers of poison creeping into the cocoons while the caterpillars are transforming

So that instead of letting nature take its course,

Letting learning envelop them and nurture them and support them till they are ready to emerge from the chrysalis,

It constantly pokes holes in that fragile shell of psyche

And we- the teacher, the test proctor, the after school tutor, the Saturday school coach

Are the weapon.

Teachers, who only want to provide a sanctuary, for the beautiful butterflies that will glide on the first morning’s dawn,

We are the predator, the torturer,

And we die a little each day knowing that this is not what we were meant to do,

Not what we signed up for,

Not what we bought supplies for, and sat in trainings for,

              wrote lesson plans and decorated our rooms for

We wanted to be part of a forest,  strong trees with deep roots where the cocoons were safe

And loved and treasured

And they grew.

We wanted to be life changing catalysts, the perfect environment of stimulus and safety.

We wanted to be nectar, the hosts that feed and shelter the unformed.

But the system made us, both predator and prey.

Marlena “Zen” Johns has lived an adventurous life, raising twin sons and teaching high school for twenty-one years. She was Teacher of the Year for AHS in 2011-2012, a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction and a University of Chicago Distinguished Educator. One of her plays was performed at a local community center. She won a prose contest sponsored by the University of Houston. Two of her poems are set to be published in the upcoming summer and fall issues of Restless, and Five 2 One magazine, and three are featured in an anthology titled Let’s Talk about Being Human.

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