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Do You Want To Hear My Poem?
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"Do you want to hear my poem" Ian asked. I was not sure I did. For one thing, Ian was my sixth-period class clown, a charming young man with a borderline sense of propriety when it came to humor. When he approached me, I was in the middle of writing the daily assignment on the board. Admittedly, it is not often that I have a 15-year-old male student who is eager to share a pore he has written.
"OK," I warily relinquished. I continued writing on the board as Ian began to recite or, more accurately, perform his poem to me. In a matter of seconds I was hanging onto my podium in silent laughter, tearing up with mirth. Instantly, my breakdown in behavior grabbed the attention of the students in the class. Their usual staid, by-the-book English teacher was coming unglued right before their eyes. Students who were already in their seats ceased their pre-bell chatter, and those remaining students entering the classroom stared at me while I clutched the podium.
"What did you do to her, Ian" Karen asked, astounded. Ian shrugged, obviously and deliciously satisfied that his metaphor poem had rendered such an affect on me. "I just told my poem is all."
The previous class period I had tried a new poetry form where students create three columns. The first column contained emotions, the second colors, and the third objects or animals. They were to then read the line straight across and create their poem using the inspired metaphor. It was at that moment of experiencing lan's metaphorical poem that I realized the risk I had taken in devoting an entire quarter to teaching poetry to my sophomore students. The risk was worth every effort.
Poetry is one of those literary arts of the English curriculum that some of my colleagues either embrace or teach with resigned duty. One colleague, with whom I collaborate closely, is not convinced poetry is relative or important to the curriculum. We rarely disagree on teaching techniques, but we do so when it involves poetry.
"Are you trying to tell me writing poetry is as important as writing essays" my colleague incredulously asked of me. His eyebrows rose even further. As I assured him that "teaching them how to write essays is important," the relief on his face was evident: his colleague had not gone off the deep end after all. "But knowing how to put life into their words takes something else, like learning how to write poetry," I remarked. He remained dubious at my comment, even more so when I confessed that I was going to devote my entire second quarter to teaching poetry. I did have my doubts as I wondered if I could pull off teaching more than 80 sophomores about meter, assonance, alliteration, and how to distinguish between a simile and a metaphor. The whole idea of teaching poetry had yet to solidify for me.
The subject matter was not the problem. The more I delved into forming my poetry unit, the more poetry opened up to me. I began to appreciate it for its creative ability to help readers and writers understand texts, experiences, and ideas. It was the length of time involved that concerned me most. I was mainly trying to work out the pace needed to cover as much as possible and at the same time sustain students' interest. I also did not want to overwhelm them. During the previous school year, I only taught certain aspects of poetry, weaving it into my regular curriculum throughout the semester. The more-than-satisfactory results and student responses inspired me to go further; this year I wanted to invest totally in poetry. The students had only experienced a smattering of the subject matter throughout their school careers. Most of them were familiar with Robert Frost, having dutifully memorized "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in their fifth-grade class. Many knew Langston Hughes; however, they were downright skittish about sonnets, leery of free verse, and reluctant about attempting to write poems. Like swimming, I knew that my students needed total immersion, and not just toe dipping, if they were going to get the hang of it.
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