collection

Poems about Teaching and Teachers

Poetry about learning, for teachers and students alike.
Illustration of drawings of ideas and educational materials floating out of a book.

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
  • 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

  • Gail Mazur

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

  • 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

  • Gary Soto

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

  • Marilyn L. Taylor

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

STUDENTS ON TEACHERS
  • Brenda Cárdenas

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

  • Lucia Perillo

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

  • Langston Hughes

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

  • Sandra McPherson

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

  • 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.

  • Diane Wakoski

             I want to thank
    my mother for working and always paying for   
    my piano lessons

  • 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.

  • Elizabeth Alexander

    Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

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

  • Billy Collins

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

  • Geoffrey Brock

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

  • David Wagoner

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

  • Yvor Winters

    The poet’s only bliss
    Is in cold certitude—

  • Kate Gale

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

  • Kenneth Koch

                                                                              I said
    You are not wearing overcoat. He said,
    You should do as I say not do as I do.

    • Appeared in Poetry Magazine Pencil
    Marianne Boruch

    My drawing teacher said: Look, think, make 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.

  • Kalli Dakos

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

  • Miroslav Holub

    Children, what did
    Napoleon Bonaparte do,
    asks teacher.

  • Kenn Nesbitt

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

  • 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.

TEACHING POETRY: RESOURCES

Veteran teachers on their best poetry teaching practices.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.