“Every Story Can Be Changed”: Lesle Lewis Reflects, Inspires at Spring Convocation
Landmark Professor shares lessons learned and questions still unanswered
PUTNEY, Vt. – Lesle Lewis, a poet and professor of English at Landmark College, was the faculty speaker at the Spring 2014 Convocation on January 25. Eighty new students, along with numerous family members, faculty, and staff, listened to Lewis’s insights, which ranged from the light and humorous to the profound.
Lewis holds an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts, an M.A. in English from Keene State College, and a B.S. in education from the University of New York. Her poetry has been published in multiple journals, including American Letters and Commentary, Northern New England Review, Green Mountains Review, Barrow Street, and Slope.
Lesle’s books include Small Boat (winner of the 2002 Iowa Poetry Prize), Landscapes I & II (Alice James Books, 2006), lie down too (2011, winner of Beatrice Hawley Award) and the chapbook It’s Rothko in Winter or Belgium (Factory Hollow Press, 2012). Her next collection, A Boot’s a Boot is forthcoming in February.
The full text of Lewis’s speech is presented here.
Misspellings, Multitasking, and Metaphors
I have been teaching in the English department for 19 years, and this is a hard place to teach, but what I love about teaching here is the learning I do. Here, teachers teach students how to learn, and students teach teachers how to teach.
So now, here’s a short list of things I’ve learned from my students.
I’ve learned how many decisions we make every time we write a sentence.
I’ve learned how misspellings can say something new and wonderful.
I’ve learned all the comma rules and how to be allowed not to use them.
I’ve learned the wonders of YouTube.
I’ve learned what K-pop is and what it takes to be a K-pop star.
I know that I may be too white and too old to love rap, but I’ve learned how rap has saved some of my students’ lives.
I’ve learned how what’s silly surprises us and teaches us and how learning is always a surprise.
I’ve learned that every story can be changed.
I’ve learned how to drive the Landmark bus.
I’ve learned how to get students to come to my office for help and then how to get them to leave.
I’ve learned which computer games keep my students up all night.
I’ve learned how much my students love and miss their dogs.
I’ve learned how to do electronic comments and how not to overdo them.
I’ve learned how to better appreciate the usefulness of mistakes, even my own.
I’ve learned that strength is not sticking to your guns, but being willing to change, that learning is changing and sometimes losing what’s comfortable.
I’ve learned how sometimes what distracts us is what we should be paying attention to.
I’ve learned how students’ medications affect productivity and creativity.
I’ve learned how many ways there are to start a paper.
I’ve learned how playing with Play-Doh can help with focusing.
I’ve learned that sometimes it’s useful not to focus.
I’ve learned how useful and useless planning can be.
I’ve learned that it is good to cry for each other but not so good to cry for ourselves.
I’ve learned that I need to exercise and meditate and be outside every day in order to teach well and to write well.
I’ve learned that questions are more important than answers.
I’ve learned that doubt is just as useful as faith.
I’ve learned that no one writing assignment will change the world.
I’ve learned that multitasking is both a skill and a danger.
I’ve learned that reading slowly is more valuable than reading quickly.
I’ve learned that I will most certainly die before I read the million more poets I want to read.
I’ve learned how much random questions can teach us and how real researching is real searching.
I have learned how the quickest way from point to point is a straight line, but it’s not always the best way, and certainly not the only way.
I’ve learned how it’s my students’ differences that make them poets.
I’ve learned that real education is self-education, and it’s about always being willing to change your mind.
And I’ve learned that I keep teaching here because there is so much I still want to learn, and Landmark is the best place for me to learn.
I want to learn how to get students to give themselves permission to write.
I want to learn how metaphors really work to solve problems, especially how getting through winter works as a metaphor for so many other things.
I want to study how the rules of grammar limit us even while they are the best tools we have for communication.
I want to study how alternative grammars can say things we can’t say with traditional grammars.
I want to learn how to read faster and how to read slower.
I want to learn how to encourage more laughing in class.
I want to learn how to download music from iTunes.
I want to learn how to get my students to spend more time in the woods getting dirty.
I want to learn how to think before I talk and talk before I think.
I want to learn how we can think about war.
I want to learn how we can talk about our love for animals and then manage to eat them.
I want to learn how to see things 11-dimensionally.
I want to know better when to work harder and when to rest.
I want to know better when to go back and when to go forward.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I want to learn how to get better at this, and how to hold even more than two opposed ideas in my mind at the same time.
David Foster Wallace said the purpose of education was to learn that we are each not the center of the universe. (Of course, here at Landmark, you will be pretty close to being the center of the universe.) As a tiny, tiny part of the universe, I want to learn what is the best gesture, the best work I can do.
John Keats defined negative capability as the ability to live with uncertainties. I want to get better at this.
I want to learn how to keep doing what I’m afraid to do.
I hope for new students that you will be brave here and take a few steps forward so that you can turn around and see yourselves more clearly and then be honest with yourselves and with everyone else. (Warning: teachers here are a hard group to fool!)
I hope that here you will become addicted to your own educations.
I hope you will continue to teach me and remind me that this is the best place to learn and the best place to look up from your computer screens and your phones and notice the sun and the trees and the spring, when it finally comes, which it always does. By spring, you will be in a different place than you are now. It’s worth all the work of winter to have spring in New England.
I wish everyone a great beginning!
Landmark College was the first institution of higher learning to pioneer college-level studies for students with dyslexia. Today Landmark College, offering two and four-year degree options, a graduate-level certificate in universal design with technology integration, and summer programs for students who learn differently, is a global leader in integrated teaching methods for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, ADHD, and ASD. Students, faculty, and other professionals from all over the world are drawn to Landmark College for its innovative educational model—designed through research and practice to help all students who learn differently become confident, self-empowered, and independently successful learners.
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