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.
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
My encouragement makes him skittish—
it doesn’t suit his jubilant histrionics
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
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
She is proud of her papá
because he comes
to their little grey school
Why am I “I”? Like musk oxen we hunkered
while his lecture drifted against us like snow.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
I take the globe and roll it away: where
On it now is someone like you?
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.
I want to thank
my mother for working and always paying for
my piano lessons
On the porch of the reservation school
the blackbirds walk around our feet,
fly into our head.
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.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.
Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I was a math major—fond of all things rational.
It was the first day of my first poetry class.
I suppose he’s dreaming
What all of us kings and poets and peasants
Have dreamed: of not making the grade
The poet’s only bliss
Is in cold certitude—
Because we want to make meaning.
to say something.
You are not wearing overcoat. He said,
You should do as I say not do as I do.
My drawing teacher said: Look, think, make a mark.
Look, I told myself.
And waited to be marked.
Teachers of younger children will recognize in these poems the mix of morality, information, and make-believe that they must discerningly dole out.
Don’t tell me the cat ate your math sheet,
And your spelling words went down the drain
Children, what did
Napoleon Bonaparte do,
Our substitute is strange because
he looks a lot like Santa Claus.
The school bell rings, we go inside,
Our teacher isn’t there.
With many laughs and a few jabs, poets take on the world of scholarly research, tenure tracks, and academic sighs.
The highly desirable, the very advisable,
The hardly acquirable, properly scholarly attitude.
W. D. Snodgrass
Have you subversive, out of date,
Or controversial ideas?
Some students were stretching a professor on a medieval torture rack.
Veteran teachers on their best poetry teaching practices.
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.
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?
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.
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.