Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Teaching Days

I've had two really nifty professional experiences in the last two weeks. If you've read my profile, you know that I'm a former high school English teacher and that I now work part-time (which is so much nicer than full-time!) as a poet-in-the-schools. I do short-term residencies, mostly with elementary school kids. I also do professional development with teachers. Last spring I was invited into Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to give an after-school reading for the combined middle and high school English departments. That was absolutely delightful. I matched each poem up with a teaching tip, and the teachers seemed to enjoy the whole thing. Plus, their excellent supervisor bought one copy of my new book for all 40 teachers. How nice was that!

As a result of that experience, I was invited to give a six-hour workshop for English teachers at the high school, so I spent three hours with them last week and three more hours yesterday. I was so impressed that these teachers, six of them, would sign up for three hours of anything after a long day in the classroom. But I could not have asked for a nicer, more energetic, enthusiastic group. Nor could I have asked for a more ideal group. They were so smart, so interested in learning more about how to teach poetry, and so willing to try all twelve of the activities I offered them. Yesterday one of the teachers told me that she'd already used one of the previous week's activities and that it was a big success. Can't ask for better than that! Another one of the teachers is doing an independent project on how to teach poetry for a degree she is working on, so of course she was hungry for whatever I offered. Apparently the workshop is going to get an entire chapter in her project. So I'm feeling very good about that entire experience.

The other experience was also the result of last spring's department reading. The supervisor passed my name onto someone who was planning a conference for the NJ Language Arts Leadership Association, aka Lala. I was invited to give the afternoon presentation. My topic was "Poetry: A Natural Bridge to Writing K-6." My argument was that when kids read, listen to, and write poetry they become better writers, not just better poets, but better writers. I talked about the various skills poetry imparts and how those transfer to prose and what can be done to enhance the likelihood of transfer. Then I took everyone through three different poetry prompts. I was worried there might be some resistance, but there wasn't any at all. They just came alive when we started the writing. Initially, there was some reluctance to read drafts aloud, but once we got to the second prompt, the hands were flying in the air. That was an audience of fifty people who can now have some role in bringing more poetry into the classroom. Poetry is magic.

And then this morning I received a surprise email from two former students of mine. Both were in the same AP class, both fabulous kids. The girl is now married, lives in Boston, and works for the NY Times. The boy is making his living as an actor. Apparently, they got to thinking about me and decided to google me which led them to my website. It was great to have them come back into my life, albeit from many miles away. It was great to be reminded that teachers do make a difference.

I ended yesterday's session with a poem by Matthew Thorburn. I'd like to end this post with that same poem.

Blueberry

But it was coming down that hill,
back to the city’s prime-time sprawl
of neon, pink as her garters’ frill
peeking out from her skirt (still all
rucked up in back), and the chill
and shiver of summer giving in to fall
that I found my second, darker thrill.

Isn't that a beauty? I love its music, its brevity, its playfulness, and then that enigmatic last line. Makes me want to get out Fats Domino and dance.


1 comment :

  1. I wish I could get a transcript of that talk you gave about poetry for the K-6 set! I have two in elementary school, and just this month my 3d grader's class has created a poetry wall and is planning a "poetry party", but his teacher is the exception, not the norm. My impression is that other teachers are reluctant to incorporate poetry into the curriculum.

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