Poetry in the Classroom

I just handed in my last assignment for the first semester of my PhD (hooray!), and I also had my last class for the semester with the teacher candidates I've been privileged enough to work with. They are working on their statement of beliefs for their portfolio (and eventual job search), and today, instead of asking them for a rough draft, I decided to explore something I've had in mind for a long time.

I asked them to write me a poem.

I shared George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" with my students, which I first encountered over a decade ago in my own teacher training program, in the Christensen text Reading, Writing, and Rising Up, and then I shared my own poem, inspired be hers, orienting my experiences as a teacher.

And then...I asked them to step out of their comfort zones and use Lyon's poetic example to orient their own statement of beliefs.

They've emailed them to me, so I have no idea what anyone wrote, but the constructive discomfort of the lesson couple with the intense silence during the writing time makes me hope I will be inspired and impressed...and even if I'm not, that wasn't the point of this lesson. I wanted to show them that there are multiple ways to convey information, to get them thinking about their own classrooms differently, regardless of subject area.

And now, because the semester is over and I want to celebrate, and because, at heart, I will always be a poet, I thought I'd share my own version here with you.

Where I Teach From
by Jen McConnel, 2017
Inspired by George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From”

I am from libraries,
from summer reading programs and rows of books
(hoarding them and sharing them in equal measure;
There’s nothing like the musty smell of old pages).
I am from Dr. Friedman
and Liz Hollingworth,
and Conni Crittenden and The Farside tribe.

I am from the sense of limitless possibility
every time I was assigned a project about history
and fictional characters who are still so real to me.

I am from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Macbeth”
but I have also learned to be from the young lovers I hated to read
but learned I love to teach.
I am from cannon, and I am from new voices, and I am
Always
Rooted in the secret garden of Children’s Literature,
Imagining a Hogwarts in this place of learning.

I am from project-based inquiry
And student voice and choice
--A healthy dose of academic rationalism blended
With humanism, a revolution of the individual learner.

I am from rigor, and meeting standards without numbing souls;
From creativity and saying “yes” as much as I can
when students take risks.

I am from doing what I want
And talking the talk that I walk;
From mutual trust and respect
behind a carefully constructed boundary--
Fences make good neighbors?

I am from poetry, although I never know how to teach it,
Only how to feel it;
So many ways to read a poem!

I am from writing, from the five paragraph essay,
The bones upon which deviantly unique works can build
if only the structure is sound at the start.

I am from passion; quiet, now, no longer fiery, but fierce just the same.
I want my students to find their own way.
If my teaching does not ignite them, hopefully
Someone’s will, someday. But until then,
I will teach what I love
Rooted in skills, not content,
And I will trust that their process
Will look nothing like my own,
Even as I teach them to use mine
As a starting point.


***

References:
Christensen, L. (2000). Reading, writing, and rising up: Teaching about social justice and the power of the written word. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools.

Lyon, G.E. (n.d.). Where I'm From. Retrieved from http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html

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