Teaching is Poetic.

Last week, I witnessed a middle school Veteran’s Day Assembly. One of the guest speakers was a young man who had just returned home (only days before) from Air Force service in Afghanistan. He talked about the importance of travel, the value of trying new/challenging things, the danger of making “bad choices” that distance us from our goals, and how in order to reach our goals we must actively work towards them (basically, mom+dad are not going to take care of you forever, jobs will not show up at your doorstep, relationships do not take care of themselves). His speech covered a lot of essential themes that are relevant to this age group. Yet, despite all of these big ideas, one (seemingly minor, easily forgettable) detail really stuck out to me. As he described his educational history, he explained how we do not need to be good at everything to succeed. At first I was drawn to this idea—I have witnessed so much pressure for Students to be good, to be the best, to get all As, to excel in every subject. Why must every student be so competitive, self-critical, infinitely ambitious in every content area? How often do all Students get time to feel like they get it, understand, are successful? Then he used the example of a poem he wrote in 5th grade, titled (with pseudonym) My Name is Adam Brown and I Like to Kick Rocks. I thought this was a fantastic concept for a poem, and hoped he was going to read it aloud to everyone! However, much to my disappointment, the purpose of this example was to show that he “sucks at poetry,” hates poetry, is “not good at poetry.” Apparently his 5th grade teacher agreed that his poetry writing was not up to Standard, was not good enough. His message was that despite being “bad at poetry,” he is still successful. And still thinks he is not a Poet.

This story was very troubling to me. I believe everyone has a Poet inside of them—sometimes hiding, always there. It is sad to me that this man has been conditioned to believe he cannot write poetry. It is even more sad that his Teacher was not able to recognize the poetic beauty and potential of his “simple” concept of kicking a rock down the road. What a rad image and story! Yet instead of capitalizing on the potential poetic creativity and confidence this story could unleash, this Teacher chose to build the (traumatic) foundation for a hatred of poetry. Rather than unleashing the Poet within, this Teacher chased the Poet into hiding, far deeper inside. This mindset becomes a psycho-social virus; now, as he speaks to hundreds of middle school students, he is validated/transmitting this same mindset to (many) others. What a dangerous virus/parasite of the soul.

Recently I have become inspired by the poem A Valentine for Ernest Mann by Naomi Shihab Nye. This poem is very accessible. For those that already love poetry, this asks Poets to recognize the poetic potential of everyday life as it passes us by, as we walk through it, in the places we least expect it to flourish. For those that do not yet love poetry, this provides exposure to a poem that can be grasped, understood, applied. It opens up a conversation about what counts as poetry (everything/anything!), and offers a model of creativity+beauty in unexpected places. Could poetry like this help a Teacher shape the conditions of possibility to re-direct/explode Students’ poetic lenses, to re-enchant their perceptions of everyday life? To be active and critical investigators/observers/surveyors/purveyors of the world(s) around them?

Over the past month, I have felt more and more drawn to the adolescent age groups. I strongly believe I want to teach middle-level humanities. My goal is to unleash the Creator within all of my Students. If I am successful, every Student will know they are a creative Writer, a critical Reader, and (perhaps most importantly) a Poet.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching is Poetic.

  1. It’s the same as saying “I can’t do art,” though technically, poetry is art, writing is art. Art is a craft, and poetry can be taught. You can’t be taught what to feel – but you can be taught with avenues to express the human experience.

    I myself find poetry difficult, but I still write it for fun and for love. I don’t think that we should force everyone to be poets, painters, novelists, etc, but we can show them how to do it, because eventually when everything become robotic, humans will still have their creativity (sort of a joke about the eventual singularity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity)

    • RLT says:

      I agree with your thoughts (and am happy to hear you still love poetry! did you read Valentine for Earnest Mann?) I don’t necessarily think we should FORCE everyone to be anything, love/like anything, etc. But I do think we should make sure everyone knows they have the potential to BE each of the things we teach. Like in math, we are always telling the kids they are all Mathematicians. This doesn’t mean they have to be really good at math, or end up in a math-centered career path. It simply means they have some skills in mathematizing and can apply them. Hence, everyone is/can be a Mathematician. I think of poetry/writing/reading/… in a similar way. Being a Poet doesn’t mean you are the best poet, or that others will want to read your work or that you should be published. It simply means you can look at the world through a poetic lens and write poetically. If given the right tools and support, ALL students can be Poets. Let’s stop fostering a hatred of poetry!!

    • RLT says:

      also my (secret) love for science fiction went wild as i got to your statement re: technological singularity. and thank you, wikipedia, for making these concepts more accessible.

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