Poem Sampler

Poems about Teaching and Teachers

Poetry about learning, for teachers and students alike.

Poems about Teaching and Teachers

Robert Frost once said, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” These poems and essays tackle the pleasures and perils of rousing knowledge inside and outside of the classroom. Students will recognize their schoolteachers and professors among the incisive portraits, and teachers will find serious and funny poems on the ups and downs of the trade that verges on vocation. 

 

TEACHERS ON STUDENTS
A teacher’s job is always impassioned, but never simple: these poets compare their relationships with students to parenthood even marriage.

The Process of Explication” by Dorothea Lasky 

Students, I can’t lie, I’d rather be doing something else, I guess
Like making love or writing a poem
Or drinking wine on a tropical island

Poem for Christian, My Student” by Gail Mazur 

My encouragement makes him skittish—
it doesn’t suit his jubilant histrionics   
of despair. 

To David, About His Education” by Howard Nemerov

                                    such things are said to be
Good for you, and you will have to learn them
In order to become one of the grown-ups
Who sees invisible things neither steadily nor whole

 “Teaching English from an Old Composition Book” by Gary Soto 

I’m not given much, these tired students,
Knuckle-wrapped from work as roofers,
Sour from scrubbing toilets and pedestal sinks.

Subject to Change” by Marilyn Taylor 

Because, like me, they’re traveling  headlong
in that familiar, vertical direction

 

STUDENTS ON TEACHERS
Students regard their teachers with reverence, suspicion, boredom, gratitude, or some paradoxical combination of these.

Lecciones de lengua” by Brenda Cárdenas 

She is proud of her papá
because he comes
to their little grey school

Transcendentalism” by Lucia Perillo 

Why am I “I”? Like musk oxen we hunkered
while his lecture drifted against us like snow. 

Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes 

You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.

For Elizabeth Bishop” by Sandra McPherson 

I take the globe and roll it away: where   
On it now is someone like you?

The School Where I Studied” by Yehuda Amichai

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn't learn others.

Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons” by Diane Wakoski

         I want to thank
my mother for working and always paying for   
my piano lessons
 
Reservation School for Girls” by Diane Glancy
 
On the porch of the reservation school
the blackbirds walk around our feet,
fly into our head.

 

TEACHING ENGLISH AND POETRY
From the professor who tries to challenge students’ preconceptions to the worn-out workshop instructor, these teachers consider the jagged paths of poetic meaning-making.

 “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Workshop” by Billy Collins 

Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.   

Prof of Profs” by Geoffrey Brock

I was a math major—fond of all things rational.
It was the first day of my first poetry class.

For a Student Sleeping in a Poetry Workshop” by David Wagoner 

I suppose he’s dreaming
   What all of us kings and poets and peasants
      Have dreamed: of not making the grade

On Teaching the Young” by Yvor Winters 

The poet’s only bliss
Is in cold certitude—

 “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Kate Gale 

Because we want to make meaning.
Of something.
to say something.
Of value.

A Momentary Longing To Hear Sad Advice from One Long Dead” by Kenneth Koch

                                                                          I said
You are not wearing overcoat. He said,
You should do as I say not do as I do.
 
Pencil” by Marianne Boruch
 
My drawing teacher said: Lookthinkmake a mark.
Look, I told myself.
And waited to be marked.

 

FOR SCHOOLTEACHERS
Teachers of younger children will recognize in these poems the mix of morality, information, and make-believe that they must discerningly dole out.

A Teacher’s Lament” by Kalli Dakos

Don’t tell me the cat ate your math sheet,
And your spelling words went down the drain

Napoleon” by Miroslav Holub 

Children, what did
Napoleon Bonaparte do,
asks teacher.

December Substitute” by Kenn Nesbitt 

Our substitute is strange because
he looks a lot like Santa Claus.

Mrs. Stein” by Bill Dodds

The school bell rings, we go inside,
Our teacher isn’t there.

 

ACADEMIA
With many laughs and a few jabs, poets take on the world of scholarly research, tenure tracks, and academic sighs.

The Properly Scholarly Attitude” by Adelaide Crapsey

The highly desirable, the very advisable,
The hardly acquirable, properly scholarly attitude.

The Poet Ridiculed by Hysterical Academics” by W.D. Snodgrass 

Have you subversive, out of date,   
    Or controversial ideas?

The Academic Sigh” by Russell Edson 

Some students were stretching a professor on a medieval torture rack. 

 

TEACHING POETRY: RESOURCES
Veteran teachers on their best poetry teaching practices. 

Crisis of Conscience” by Maria Hummel

On August 16, the seven professors of the creative writing department at Virginia Tech became possibly the first in American history to draft and approve specific sets of questions to diagnose creative writing for potential danger. 

Primary Sources” by Jill McDonough

They have new faith in the power of the stuff they wrote because I am the teacher and I picked it, which doesn’t hurt when they are trying to build the confidence they need to write terrific poems. Also, I happen to pick the best parts.  

A Taste of Poetry” by Judy Rowe Michaels

I ask the students whether a poem can tell a story. Can it present different characters? Action? Sure, they tell me—“Green Eggs and Ham” or Sarah Stout who refuses to take the garbage out. Can a poem leave you wondering? Can it make you feel something? Can it make a point?

 “Nurturing the Omnivore: Approaches to Teaching Poetry” by Eileen Murphy

Allowing students to generate the discussion is the key. All responses that respect the facts, all the facts, and nothing but the facts of the text are fair game, even if it means students trash the poem you’ve presented.

Ten Poems I Love to Teach” by Eric Selinger

Here are ten poems that have the moves my students want to know better, with a couple of tips on how to catch their eyes across the dance floor.

 

EXPLORE THE LEARNING LAB
More poems, essays, and articles for students and teachers.

 

 
Originally Published: August 13, 2012

COMMENTS (2)

On September 1, 2012 at 10:19am Dick Stivelman wrote:
What a beautiful selection of poems (Teachers about students)! Thank you. I am brought back six decades to a seat in each of their classrooms.

On June 10, 2014 at 4:40pm Taylor Gaar wrote:
Great curating! I would like humbly to submit one more.
Here's a video of me performing a poem about teaching
called "Quantum Entanglement for the 5th Grade Classroom."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb-FhAbaVnI

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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