This week’s blog is from two educators who participated in Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain, our poetry discussion groups for teachers. We’re excited to share their stories with you.
Michael Cheeseman, Librarian
Thomas Paine International Elementary School, Cherry Hill
Where does poetry fit in an elementary school? One could say “everywhere!” and not be wrong. But in these days of rigid schedules, strict adherence to state standards and the overwhelming pressure of standardized tests, poetry often gets put on a back burner. Here at Thomas Paine Elementary School in Cherry Hill, we do a little better than that. Where poetry is merely mentioned in the standards, we have a vibrant poetry curriculum.
This year, I put out dozens of poetry books from a host of sources, and instructed the students to leaf through them until they found a line from one of the poems that “sounded good,” (a technique I gleaned from years of participating in Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain). Jack, a third grader pictured above, wanted to clarify, “You mean you want us to pick out a line that feels good coming out of our mouths?” Yes, Jack, that was what I meant. Before the lesson began, I knew that Jack got it.
Later I asked Jack what he knew about poetry. He told me it didn’t have to rhyme, and that the words just fit together somehow and, he said, “You know, a poem can tell many stories.” Jack showed more insight into poetry than many adults I know.
Every spring, I look forward to Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain. There is no talk of students, lesson plans or state standards. It is simply a time for me to read, listen, and discover great poetry with my colleagues. It is the way I shed off the winter doldrums. I sometimes feel guilty having such a good time without making an explicit connection to my work as a teacher and a librarian. But then I see the way my students listen and talk about poetry, and in the way they look at the world around them and I know I’ve brought it back to them.
(Marie Ponsot reading at the Common Gathering. Photo by Lauren Rutten Photography)
Carol Procter, Fourth Grade Teacher
Durban Avenue Elementary School, Hopatcong
At the Common Gathering in April (the final event in Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain) , I was inspired by the guest poet , Marie Ponsot (pictured above). She was there for many but I almost felt like she was speaking directly to me. Her open-mindedness toward style and attention to detail in the sounds and words connected to me very deeply. When she read “No cloud is measurable….it lifts until it conjugates…as it goes on, it lets go…”, it took me back to memories of me and my mother laying on the ground as we watched the clouds together. The Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain sessions help me each year to harness these moments in my teaching with an open mind very similar to what Marie Ponsot shared with us.
After 37 years of teaching, I can assure you that the most important element I have as a teacher is my passion. When people ask me, “When are you retiring?” I think they should be asking, “How do you continue to bring the best out of your students?” Marie Ponsot said it perfectly in her poem “Simples”…” “what do I want // well I want to / get better.” My passion is truly inspired by participating in Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain. There are poems that I would never pick up otherwise. However, as I listen to my colleagues reading I notice things I would not normally even be paying attention to. The readings bring life to poems that I may not have otherwise discovered.
The more I have read poetry in my personal life, the more I use it in the classroom. I’ve used oral readings of poetry in so many ways in my classroom: as a writing prompt, as an intro to a language arts concept such as figurative language and as a complement to nature studies. Since I teach all subjects and can interconnect them, I have so many opportunities to introduce my students to poetry. I am so thankful for being able to bring my passion for poetry to my teaching.