This fall, I started a job teaching 7th grade English. It began as a part-time job, just .5. Then, three weeks ago, the other 7th grade English teacher resigned, and since then, I find myself teaching his classes as well as mine … meaning that I am 1.2 time. Meaning that now I really have zero time to write.
But while I miss writing terribly, I love my students so much, partly because seventh graders are so easily grossed out. For example, if I want them to move their desks together into little pods, I say, “Please make your desks kiss!” They find that so gross. Which makes me laugh. Which means I laugh a lot more than I ever did as a .5 teacher. I love laughing while working.
What does not make me laugh at work? What does not bring me joy? Teaching poetry.
Reading poetry fills me with dread. Talking about poetry multiples the dread. Presenting my students with poems that I don’t understand? That’s dread to the power of infinity.
So, three weeks ago, on the first day of the Poetry unit, I decided to be honest with my students.
“I have a confession,” I said.
The kids grew instantly silent and perfectly still.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” I continued, “because English teachers can get fired for something like this. But here’s the truth: I don’t love poetry.” I cringed. “Some poems, in fact, I find really, really … boring.”
A few kids nodded.
“So I promise,” I continued, “we will only study poems that, at least in my opinion, aren’t boring.” I held up three, glued-together fingers as if making a teacher oath (which may have in fact been the Girl Scout Promise). “We will only study poems that change the way we see the world.”
I wasn’t sure where this past part came from. Did poems change the world? And if so, how? And why? And where were these particular poems?
To be clear, there were a few poems I did like. Ones by Wislawa Szymborska, Billy Collins, and William Carlos Williams. Adrienne Su, Adrian Matejka, Nikki Giovanni. But I didn’t care for the canon of poetry, the ones I read when I was in school, the ones I taught in previous teaching jobs. Those poems never ignited me. Poetry was a chore. Poems were so darn serious! Plus, I could never remember the differences between trochaic, pyrrhic, and spondee feet.
But then I learned about talking subway seats. [Read more…]