Category Archives: Lisa Rizzo

January 12 – One Rainy Day in the Life of a California School Teacher

by Lisa Rizzo

Standing in the doorway, I watch the rain pour down. The gutter has come loose again, and a waterfall gushes right outside my classroom door. If it weren’t for the eave overhead, I would be drenched now, completely at the mercy of the water forming puddles on the uneven concrete. I stand outside in the rain because 60 years ago when this school was built in Northern California, someone had the bright idea of long banks of classrooms joined by covered walkways exposed to the elements.

The door to my classroom has recently begun to stick a little when opening, and I know that this means the screws at the bottom of the door are coming loose. I am an expert because this has happened two times in the past. Soon the door will either refuse to open or close–whichever action comes at the moment when the screws give way. Then I will be forced to call the district maintenance guys again, and they will put wood putty in the holes and re-screw the door. This will solve the problem for a couple more years before the whole process will have to be repeated. Just like the gutter that streams waterfalls outside my door.

Last year the maintenance guys spent days welding the gutter seams together as if their puny efforts could hold against the pressure of water pushing against the steel. The welds held last winter when we got only 37% of our normal rainfall, but this year the rains have already fallen long and hard. Nature is winning.

Standing in the doorway, I can see that the enormous puddle in the middle of the courtyard is growing. In the 22 years I have taught at this school, after each storm the water pools. Long ago the drains filled with roots from the bottlebrush tree that grows there. Every year when the water rises, unwary students slosh through it–sometimes above their ankles–until they learn to find a detour around it. I tell them we call this Lake Rizzo.

This year the leaks in the walkway roof are getting worse and it is harder to pass from one hallway to another without getting wet–without a stray drop down the back of my neck or in my eye.

And it is all this that makes this day seem almost unbearable. I might find the pressures of trying to teach in a beleaguered public school system more tolerable if I could walk down the hallway or stand at the door to greet my students and stay dry.

Lisa Rizzo is the author of In the Poem the Ocean (Big Table Publishing). Her work has appeared in such journals as 13th Moon, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx, as well as her blog Poet Teacher Seeks World. She won 1st prize in the 2012 BAPC Poetry Contest. By day she teaches middle school in Northern California.

January 24 – The Teacher/Poet or Poet/Teacher?

by Lisa Rizzo

Today a funny thing happened in my middle school classroom. The teacher stopped “teaching” and became a writer being interviewed by her students. We were watching a video about an author of one of the stories in their textbook. When it was over, someone asked me what my writing routine was. I’ve told my students that I write poetry and have always written poems with them for classwork. But I’ve never really just talked to them about who I am as a writer, what I do and why I do it.

This day was different – I put aside the set curriculum for 20 minutes and just let them ask questions — and they had some really good ones. One boy asked if I thought it was better to start writing when you were still young or was it okay to wait until you were older. That is something near and dear to my heart because I never really wrote when I was a child even though I “wanted” to be a writer. I told them that I always loved reading books which had as the main character a girl who wrote – Little Women and the Betsy/Tacey books in particular – and that although I dreamed I’d be like them I didn’t do anything about it until I was an adult. I had to admit that I thought it would have been better for me if I had started sooner, if I had taken myself more seriously, if I had worked harder. I asked them to think about whether they wanted to create art in some way – to write, paint or play an instrument. If they did, I wanted to encourage them create a space for it in their lives when they are young, to feel the joy of creation now.

Who was more affected by this whole conversation – the students or myself? As with all middle school teaching, it may be years before I know if any student took this to heart enough to start on their own writing career. That’s the wonder and the ache of teaching adolescents – I must have faith that I am touching their lives even though they may never tell me. However, I do know that their genuine interest in me as a writer, their desire to understand me just a little bit more touched my heart in a way I won’t forget.

Lisa Rizzo is a poet and middle school teacher who lives in Northern California. Her work has appeared in such journals as 13th Moon, Earth’s Daughters, Bellowing Ark and Calyx and her chapbook In the Poem an Ocean. Rizzo blogs at Poet Teacher Seeks World. She won first prize in the 2012 BAPC Poetry Contest.