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
“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.
“For Elizabeth Bishop” by Sandra McPherson
I take the globe and roll it away: where
On it now is someone like you?
“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.
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.
“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.
to say something.
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,
“December Substitute” by Kenn Nesbitt
Our substitute is strange because
he looks a lot like Santa Claus.
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 of poetry.