"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach

18763709Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner is the second volume put together by the Courage And Renewal Center. These volumes are personal favorites because they not only include incredibly wonderful examples of poetry but they include short essays by teachers on how a particular poem has helped them in their teaching career. In the introduction the editors say that poetry is especially good at giving us revelations about our lives and about teaching because "poetry compresses meaning into charged particles of language and image. Poetry stirs up an inner conversation about questions, emotions, and things that matter." I would concur. since reading more poetry I have found it speaking to me at particular moments in my life when I need and am open to an inspiration.

But why are poetry and teaching such a good pairing? Poet Taylor Mali says this, "Whether teaching or writing [poetry], what I am really doing is shepherding revelation; I am the midwife to epiphany." While the Roman poet Horace said that poet's job is to "either instruct or delight." And T.S. Eliot said, "poetry can communicate before it is understood." Poetry, therefore, can help set the student up for learning.

As an educator I often feel like a lone wolf. What I am doing in my classroom, or library doesn't relate to what anyone else is doing. I couldn't be more wrong. I may be a teacher but I am also part of a school, a part of the whole. The lyrics to the song "Helplessness Blues" reminds me of this truth.

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
                                                                             -The Fleet Foxes.

Poetry reminds me to be the best teacher (and librarian) I can be. Fernando Pessoa's poem, "To Be Great, Be Entire" is a perfect example of this, "Be whole in each thing. Put all that you are/Into the least you do."

Today I am inspired by the poem "Your Other Name" by Tara Sphia Mohr. I am reminded by poetry that I can be a "cauldron of swirling light" for my students even if I don't always feel like it. And when I am feeling uninspired, I should follow this poem's advice---

Read poems. Walk in the woods. Make slow art.
Tie a rope around your heart, be led off the plank,
happy prisoner.

Don't you just love this metaphor for plunging into the unknown and doing it happily? And notice here a poet reminds us that reading poetry can help us regain our love for the craft of teaching.

Lastly, today I want to embrace this blessing from John O'Donohue and his poem "For Presence"---

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
     around the heart of wonder.

Wonder. Isn't that what we want for our students? To experience a sense of wonder every day as they learn new things?

Today, as part of National Poetry Month, I encourage you to find a poem which speaks to your heart, that opens it to a sense of wonder.

All quotes are from the book-

Intrator, Sam M., and Megan Scribner. Teaching with Heart: Poetry That Speaks to the Courage to     Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014. Print.


  1. I love poetry because it is such condensed meaning and emotion where every word counts. I used to teach poetry in French 3 and should see if I can find my file of poems. There is one by Victor Hugo about going to visit his daughter's grave that I can never get through reading without crying. So beautiful.

    1. Yes, pull it out and delight your third and fourth year students with it!


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