Friday, June 6, 2014


Poetry is my default.

When I am
wrestling with ideas,
reasoning through concepts
sizing up situations
weeping in my tea
celebrating an accomplishment
processing a failure
or savoring a surprising joy
poetry is
my genre of choice
to read
to write.

When I am analyzing
the day
the classroom
the plan
the lesson
the child
the possibilities
poetry is...
the only way
to see
the drop of water
in the ocean
...and the ocean
the molecule
in the air
...and the air
the one voice
in a chorus
...and the chorus
the path
in the forest
through the trees
...and the forest.

Poetry is my default.

And I am not alone.

Every day, everywhere, in classrooms, teachers are rereading a favorite poem to gain strength for the day--to remember why they began teaching.

Every day, somewhere in some classroom , a teacher is discovering a  new poem --a poem that  reads her mind and her heart.

An essential poem is pinned to the corkboard beside the desk, taped to a file cabinet at the back of the room, hanging in front of the classroom on a colorful poster, or tucked into a plan book, or journal or book of teacher devotions.

Teachers in all sorts of situations and settings read poetry, need poetry, breathe poetry.
Poetry enables them to continue to teach with fire, to teach with courage.

Sam Intrator, Megan Scribner and Parker J. Palmer understand this-- and  promote and celebrate this essentialness of poetry in our teaching lives.

Ten years ago, they edited and published Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach.

In this volume, teachers submitted poems that sustain them as they teach.  Each teacher has also submitted a brief reflection on the poem and its importance in  her teaching life.

I have given many copies of this volume as gifts to teachers, as they received higher degrees or moved to a literacy coordinator job... or just because they are my teacher friends.

 I return to this "devotional" again and again.  The poems submitted by my fellow teachers echo my thoughts, mirror my feelings, and give me the courage to teach from my heart.

This is the one essential tool in my writing teacher's toolbox.  I could not teach writing without this book.

As I provide writing possibilities and opportunities for teachers in the CAWP Summer Institute, this anthology, consistently and miraculously offers the perfect mentor text, the appropriate commentary or note to supplement my ideas... the extra dollop of inspiration to create a writing task leading to powerful  writing.

This summer is no different.  With  this book in hand, as we remember classrooms, and brainstorm ideas around our theme this year ( Talk, Texts, and Thoughts:  Teachers as Intellectuals and Agents of Change), I will share Sonia Nieto's submission, I Remember,  written her sister, Lydia Cortes.
To read  this poem see page 39 of the text in Google Books.

As we talk about the varieties and kinds of silences and the uses of silences in our classrooms and in the world, I will share Pablo Neruda's Keeping  Quiet  submitted by Catherine Gerber.

And as we consider the various ways of knowing, I can not do it without sharing Two Kinds of Intelligence by Jellaludin Rumi submitted by Marianne Houston.

Now ten years later,  I am delighted to own the new sister volume, Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach.    Following the same structure and format of the previous volume, already this, too,  has been added to my survivor tools-- just as essential as it older sibling.

In this volume, we find our fellow teachers across the nation have submitted old favorites and classics, such  as The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus submitted by Randi Weingarten and Section II from Song of  Myself by Walt Whitman submitted by Jennifer Boyden

I am also delighted to find newer contemporary sustenance such as Taylor Mali's  What Teacher's Make submitted by Kevin Hodgson and No Way. The Hundred is There. by Lori Malaguzzi submitted by Tiffany Poirier.

What poem woke you up this morning?
Which poem reflected the day's possibilities?
Which poem opened your mind, your heart and your window on the world today?
What poem gives you courage, and sets you on fire?

Related Resources

Visit  the Center for Courage and Renewal of which Parker J. Palmer is the founder and senior partner.

In my pile of next reads is  Palmer's classic book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, I want to reread it this summer.

Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead is another anthology of poems following the same structure of Teaching with Fire and Teaching with Courage,  published by the same editors between these two volumes.

Bringing together leaders from every area imaginable-- corporate executives, doctors, educators, lawyers, politicians, journalists, clergy and more, this anthology inspires leaders in all walks of life in their daily work of making a difference.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Consider the work you do and the poems that have sustained you in that work.  Reread several of those poems, reflecting on their importance, influence and inspiration. Why do you need them and reread them? When are they most helpful?  How did you discover these poems? How have you shared them with others?

Select one of these poems and write a one-page reflection  on its essentialness in your life and work.

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