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Teachers as Poets in the Classroom

Poetry is the answer to a mystery

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`WHY do you write poetry?'' the poet asked me. I mumbled something about writing poetry since I was a little girl, and something else about a teacher who published my little rhyme in the yearbook. I had no real answer for the poet at the time, nor did I feel the question was necessary. My poems were a hobby, something separate from my teaching, something I looked back over once in a while. When the poet came into my classroom, we reverently called him ``The Poet'' which gave my students and me a sense of a presence entering. For the first time I could sit in my own classroom and become just one of the students. When the poet asked for sharing after each exercise, many eager hands shot up. I felt the need to sit on my hands, until I realized, ``Why not share mine?''

Months later, when I read the poem ``The House Next Door'' to my students, one said, ``You wrote that?'' which is not dissimilar to their common reaction, ``What are you doing here?'' when they meet me in the grocery store. Now I was able to talk about my childhood with them, and they in turn talked about theirs; their neighborhood, the mean guy next door, the summer trips, the camp stories. As I learned to dig deeper and to share, my students learned to dig deeper and share. We were building an alliance that our poetry would strengthen.

An unexpected bonus of having a poet in our school was that teachers became interested not only in teaching poetry, but also in writing poetry. The poet agreed to stay after school to run teachers' workshops. Through the writing and sharing of our poems, I discovered other sides to the people I had worked with for years. One remembered her grandmother's cookies baking, one lamented the loss of a friend, one imposing man remembered looking up at the museum dinosaurs, one cried over the mother who left her so young. Many of us could not give up our workshops when the residency was over, so we continued our meetings.

Why do I write poetry? I know a little more now. In uncovering memories of a 5th-grade slumber party, climbing trees, the leap from one third-story roof to another, or the knee-high grass where I caught the perfect butterfly, I am peeling away the layers of sophistication to see into those moments in childhood when I knew I could accomplish anything, become anyone. Poetry helps my students to find these moments. Poetry for me is the discovering and rediscovering of the answer to a mystery.


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