Poetry and English

Response to John Loeppky’s 2nd Public Write: “I Guess it Scares Us – Teachers Discuss the Teaching of Poetry in Senior Secondary English” (DOI: 10.1111/eie.12016)

I thoroughly enjoyed that you wrote about Australia’s education system. I agree that there is a lot to learn about what other places around the world do. It is also important to note how their school system is organized when we consider a specific teaching choice or strategy because we need to see the whole picture. You provided a nice summary of this in your opening paragraph. We often only look at the States or Canada but in this technological and global world that we live in, it only makes sense to expand our passion and curiosity of learning and teaching to other countries. I thoroughly enjoyed your response, your inquisitions and how you wrote with conviction.

Poetry was not taught mainly because of teacher preferences and the belief that students who were not gifted would not understand the genre. I like your point that this is a “perceived challenge.” You note that studies show that those who write poetry on final exams received higher grades, making the assumptions they have irrelevant. As an inclusive educator, I often witness teachers ignoring studies and results based on their own assumptions that something will not work. I love your idea that “the subjects that distance themselves from the norm today are the norms of tomorrow.” Our commonsense is always changing and always should be. I believe that teachers should take risks because that is how students learn; ignoring poetry just because the English teacher down the hall does, is not a reasonable excuse. Furthermore, school is for our learners and should be student-centered not teacher-centered. It is our job to provide our students with many choices and genres. It is also our job to learn about things that we may not have the most experience with. For instance, if a teacher is unknowledgeable about treaty education then they go to a PD day or workshop to learn the skills they need. They do not just get to opt out.

If I am being entirely honest, poetry is going to be a hard subject for me to teach. But so will Shakespeare, plays, classics, etc. But should my students just read Facebook posts all day because that is easy? Obviously not! Teaching and learning are not effortless, easy tasks and they never should be. I think if we focus on all genres both teachers and students improve, whereas if we limit ourselves we do not grow. If we only study things that are students already understand then we are not allowing them to grow as learners. Furthermore, some students might connect with poetry more than other genres. Poetry might be their key to enjoying English class. It is not our right as teachers to take that learning opportunity away from our students. If students do not have the background knowledge from previous years we can show them picture books or poetry that is easier to understand. We can also look at popular music, which is relevant to our learners.

There are so many levels and types of poetry that everyone could be introduced to the genre, no matter their academic level. I also think that a vast array of emotions and experiences can be represented in poetry. I agree with you that we do not have to focus solely on literary analysis when reading poetry. I have worked with kids who are at risk and many of them connect with poetry, rap music, etc. They also enjoy making their own pieces – something that I benefited from in high school. High school and adolescent years can be very difficult and I think poetry is a great release. It also promotes creativity and choice, since it is often not structured. Oral speaking, another important skill, connects nicely with poetry. For instance, you could have a poetry slam assignment.

The main thing I took from your public write is that “poetry is only as inaccessible (or indeed accessible) as you, the teacher, make it.” This should be a motto for all teachers to follow. At the end of the day, it all comes down to our mindset and if we approach hard topics with a positive attitude, anything is possible for any learner! Thank you for your incite and engaging conversation.


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