With the exception of the few years we did not attend Heritage Christian School's Class Days because of my illness, I have mostly taught high school students. In fact, since returning to EC II Class Day for Elizabeth's 10th grade Biology Lab three years ago, I have taught only high school writing, both college prep and honors levels--to mostly 10th-12th graders.
But this year was different.
At the end of last year, I was informed of two things: 1) My Advanced Writing Class (honors, grades 11-12) was closed due to lack of students (actually, there were students who tried to register later and couldn't), and 2) The 4th-6th poetry teacher had decided not to return to Class Day after all, so a class of 15 students was now without a teacher. And guess what? Both classes were scheduled for first period, so shifting to the poetry class was an easy move. The idea of teaching a poetry class was intriguing, so I volunteered to cover the class--which meant "design and write and then teach the class, and grade all student work."
Once September rolled around, both the families and I were to adjust a bit. Somehow misinformation escaped about the class: I was told that the class was a poetry class and therefore designed the syllabus and wrote the class to reflect the subject of poetry; however, some parents were informed that the class was a creative writing class. I added more writing to the class via the writing of responses during our first semester as we read and discussed the lives and works of such poets as Robert Louis Stevenson, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson. We lost a few students whose families wanted a creative writing course rather than a poetry class or who felt the class was too much work for their current workloads, but overall, the class seemed very successful.
The students also worked on a Poet Project over the course of the first semester which included the writing of a report on the life of a particular poet and then the copying of five poems by that poet as part of the project. So on our last day of first semester, the students presented oral presentations of their Poet Projects, covering the lives and works of Christina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Shakespeare, Aileen Fisher, Roald Dahl, and Langston Hughes.
During the second semester, our poetry class focused on the writing of poetry. We studied stanzaic structures and wrote couplets, tercets, and quatrains; we tried the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka, and we played with visual poetry in the forms of acrostic, cinquain, diamante, shape, and concrete poems before concluding the semester with letting loose with some free verse.
Our little class of eleven students, grades 4-6, also hosted two Guest Poets: Judith Deem Dupree, author of living with what remains, and Kathryn Belsey who recently completed her Pacific University MFA thesis, Fire Storm and published two poems in the latest In Posse Review. Both poets read their work and/or taught a lesson to my little class, and both were impressed with the quality and depth of work produced by these young poets.
Kathryn Belsey ("Kitty" to those who know and love her) suggested that I should publish my students' work into an anthology of sorts. Our final class on June 10 consisted of a Poetry Reading for parents and family of the poetry class, each student choosing his/her three favorite poems that he/she composed for class and reading them aloud before the class. Secretly I e-mailed the parents, requesting them to e-mail me copies of their students' three poems which I then formatted into a 27-page anthology with "The Poetry of XXXXX XXXXXXXX" at the top of each page, each student (except one) receiving two pages for their poetry--one poet needed three pages as her poems were lengthier than the rest.
I found that I could e-mail the PDF version of the anthology right to Staples, and I picked them up right before class, beautifully bound and ready to present as a special gift to each student in class. After the group of parents had applauded each young poet, I opened the boxes from Staples and handed out the anthologies; both the parents and the students were ecstatic at seeing their work "in print." I wrote an introductory page similar to what I've written here as well as a Table of Contents listing the "Featured Poets" alphabetically, and finishing the anthology with one of my own poems as a gift to them: "Easter Life."
I received many hugs on our last day of class from these wonderful young poets as well as the thanks of many parents who commented, "You brought poetry into our home," and "XXXX loved writing poetry so much that she wrote in her pajamas before starting school" and "I can't get XXXXX to stop writing poems!"
Those comments are more than adequate reward for putting heart and soul into teaching these young poets. My hope and prayer for them is that they will keep writing poetry long after our class ends and that poetry will continue to be a force in their lives long past this year's class.
From Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance:
Hail, Poetry, thou heav'n-born maid!Next year I return to teaching high schoolers in Intermediate (college prep) and Advanced (honors) Writing, both classes that I have designed and written myself. I'll miss the enthusiasm of my younger students, but I've missed my Advanced students this year as well. I teach a short poetry unit in both classes at least...so poetry will continue to be an important force in my teaching for (many) years to come...but never again quite like this little class of younger poets.
Thou gildest e'en the pirate's trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
All hail, all hail, divine emollient!
In the grip of poesy,