A Massachusetts Schoolteacher Reads Robert Frost’s “Out, Out”

August 7, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: My name is Elizabeth Wojtusik. I’m 38 years old. I live here in Humarock, in Massachusetts right by the ocean. And I work as a teaching consultant in the Boston Public School System primarily for an organization called Arts in Progress.

My philosophy in teaching pretty much is that children learn by doing. Kids like things to play with. Their world becomes very real when they can manipulate objects. A kid left to themselves will pick up something and play with it. I know this because when I’m teaching I often see kids playing with pencils when I’m doing the talking part.

So if they can use real objects that are examples of or actual real objects from, say, China, and use those in a meaningful context, they begin to have a more concrete understanding of a particular topic.

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: What are you selling?

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: When I teach rather than handing the child something to read and then asking the kids questions about what they have just read, I have them get up on their feet and through using props and a story, for instance, a folk tale that has to do with the particular culture in question, they re-enact a time period, a tale, a moment in time.

STUDENT: Little lower.

STUDENT: Five years.

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: Let me hear all that noise. (A lot of noise)

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: I think a lot of kids don’t get an opportunity to play, to use their imaginations. They’re so hungry for it.

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: Now what’s your reaction? That was the best.

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: The first time I ever read the poem, “Out, Out” I was stunned by it. It’s about a boy, and… (Laughing) he’s a kid. It even says in the poem, a boy doing a man’s work though a child at heart. The kids that I work with a lot of times you would not believe the backgrounds that they come from, the households — not all of them but a lot of them are here and they’re doing… They’re kids for the day in school and when they go home, they’re taking care of other younger siblings or they’re… Nobody’s home when they go home and they’re sitting in front of the TV. In the poem, the boy… His tragedy could have been avoided just by somebody saying, oh, call it a day, we’re done. Go be a kid. Go play. Here’s your time to play. This is the time that you have for this. With the kids that I work with, a lot of times they don’t have the time for play, I fear.

ELIZABETH WOJTUSIK: This poem is “Out, Out” by Robert Frost.

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, 
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. 
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont. 
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled, 
As it ran light, or had to bear a load. 
And nothing happened: day was all but done. 
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work. 
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them “Supper.” At the word, the saw, 
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant, 
Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap-
He must have given the hand. However it was, 
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand! 
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh, 
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all-
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart-
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off-
The doctor, when he comes. Don’t let him, sister!” 
So. But the hand was gone already. 
The doctor put him in the dark of ether. 
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath. 
And then-the watcher at his pulse took fright. 
No one believed. They listened at his heart. 
Little-less-nothing!-and that ended it. 
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.