7 Gorgeous Poems For You to Feed Your Secondary Students

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A friend of mine is an incredible chef. When I visit her, she’s constantly pulling things out of her cabinet or refrigerator for me to sample.

“Here. Take a bite.”

“Smell this.”

“Try this. It’s SIN.”

“What do you taste?”

The stuff she has me try is always phenomenal, and always leaves me wanting more. Herb-marinated homemade feta. Pickled green tomatoes. Vanilla halvah frosting. “Can I just… have the rest of that?” I find myself asking about things I’m fully aware she needs for a recipe.

This has become my favorite way to “teach” poetry. Pulling out samples of my favorite poems and letting them settle on my students’ tongues, just for the sake of sharing something rich and delightful. This is not the only way I teach poetry—we do, of course, have to teach analysis and terms and the classics—but taking a minute or two once a week to share poetry for poetry’s sake does two things:

1) Communicates that poetry has intrinsic value, not just “something you need to pass my class/do well on the state test/SAT” value
2) Is a great way to build relationships in the classroom, through discussion and the mere fact that you’re taking the time to experience beauty with your childlings

Plus, here’s the best part: informally sharing poetry secretly teaches it, too. I find that the more poetry I share with my students “for fun,” the more I catch them in discussions saying things like, “I like that metaphor,” or “This reminds me of that poem we read about freckled things,” or, once, in a comment that almost made my heart stop beating, “I know that isn’t an iamb, but is there a word for a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables?”

Here are some of my favorites and where you can find them:

This is a really fun poem to discuss with students. Their ideas and interpretations will enchant you: I promise.  There are no wrong answers when you teach poetry this way.
Power line: “What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings/In molasses.”

Long before social media or video games, teenagers had a tendency to feel disconnected and alone, so I love any opportunity to share a poem about our interconnectedness and the invitation to participate. The last line is so powerful.
Power line: "Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice."

Mary Oliver: "The Journey" 
I love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” and always share it with my 8th graders, but this is one of her poems that I don’t let students leave my classroom without knowing.
Power line: “One day you finally knew/what you had to do, and/began”

Rupi Kaur: “There Is So Much More To You Than Being Pretty”
Students will love Rupi Kaur, both for her short, meaningful poems and for the whimsical illustrations accompanying them.
Power line: “i am sorry i made it sound as though/something as simple as what you’re born with/is the most you have to be proud of”

I love this poem so much that I can’t decide whether it’s more like cheese, chocolate, or wine—my holy trinity. It’s an important poem, particularly for right now.
Power line: The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.”

This poem, which May wrote about Detroit, might be better understood by high school students, but that doesn’t mean middle school students can’t enjoy or be moved by it, too.
Power line: “…but they won’t stop saying/how lovely the ruins,/how ruined the lovely/children must be in that birdless city.” 

Definitely worth listening to out loud in addition to or instead of reading on paper. Also this has the “d” word for those whose students have never heard that word before and whose ears will crumble at its mention.
Power line: “…because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it is sent away.”

What are the most delicious poems you know?

(And yes, I will be using "gorgeous" to describe inanimate objects like poems or iced coffee or Kleenex Cool Touch from now on. Thank you, Jonathan Van Ness, you gorgeous human.)



Somewhere Between 6 and 7 Things I’m Doing This Summer

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hi, hello. Here I am.

I know you thought I’d left you, but I’ve been right here all along.

Doesn’t that sound like lyrics to the next big power ballad? I’ll make a music video for it. It’ll be of me wading in knee-deep water on a tropical beach in Antigua, except 1. I have no money to go to Antigua OR for professional video services and 2. I don’t want you to know who I am just yet, so the music video will really just consist of someone filming me walking and sloshing along the length of my bathtub and singing a song I made up with a bag over my head.

(As you can see, I’ve grown no less weird in our time apart.)

Today is my first day of summer, and summer feels a little different this year. Professionally, 2017-18 was great. I want to adopt all my students and their parents, and I feel like I’m the best teacher I’ve ever been. But the weight of the world outside of my classroom has just been...a lot. Between Harvey and the shooting in Santa Fe and a hundred other disasters near and far, I felt like I was army-crawling to the finish line this year, dragging both legs because this school year had broken them. You know what I mean?


One of my favorite summer traditions as a teacher besides peeing when I want is to make a list of everything I want to accomplish, complete, try, or visit over the summer. However, I haven’t actually made one of these lists in years. Between grad school, switching schools, professional development, moving, my contract job writing for WeAreTeachers, writing four new curricula*, and a large chunk of my close friends getting married, the past three summers have been so brain-stabbingly busy that I haven’t had the time for such frivolities. (Don’t worry, teachers who are parents—I hear your uproarious, condescending laughter about what I think being busy means.)

But this summer, I’m back in the game. Having a list helps redirect me from my natural inclination of how I’d like to spend a free day (sitting in complete darkness either watching a true crime documentary on Netflix or scrolling through articles online about how bad the world is) to more positive, healthy, productive ways of caring for myself, connecting with others, and developing Skills.

These are things I hope to accomplish between professional development, training, a super secret project I’ll tell you about before the end of the year (!), and the 3.5 million weekday appointments/errands I haven’t been able to complete from September 2017 until now:

My Summer To-Do List, 2018

1. Make at least one meal from a cookbook each week. 
I’ve amassed quite a few cookbooks and have made recipes from, oh, I don’t know, .01% of each of them? There’s something so pleasant about using a cookbook instead of your phone—it harkens back to The Old World. No frustration about your phone locking you out every 30 seconds, no spilling batter or sauces on your screen. Just the usual frustration about how to divide 1 and ¾ cup flour in half.

2. Read books. 
Here is my little baby stack!

Calypso because I love David Sedaris, Little Fires Everywhere because I’m late to the party where everyone read it in 2017, Eligible because my friend Alison’s book recommendation game is on fire, and Cravings because Chrissy Teigen is a national treasure. And yes, I AM counting a cookbook as summer reading, thank you for asking. Also note the jasmine plant that I have miraculously not killed. 

3. Learn how to throw an axe. 
No explanation for this one. I just want to.

4. Go to the beach or a lake. 
I like the beach best in the morning and evening because I’m ancient, so maybe I’ll rent a tiny beach house for a weekend. Want to come with me? I promise to bring boozy popsicles and go to bed every night before 10.

5. Invite my aged neighbor to have dinner with me one night. 
I say “aged” instead of “elderly” because she’s fabulous and zesty, words we might use to describe some great cheeses and wine. Plus I suspect she has some wild stories from her past, and I'm here for them.

6. Take a cheese class. 
I just learned that this is a thing, and I’m not sure if it’s a “how to make cheese” class or “learn about the different types of cheese” class, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll be there.

6. Compile my favorite quotes and poems into a journal. 
Right now I have them on a single, giant email thread with myself that I keep replying to, and it’s getting very hard to read with all the >>>>>s. Do you know what I mean by that? It’s only the first day of summer which means I don’t yet the energy to explain any further.

7. Teach my dog to stop jumping on people OR shake. 
One of these is way more ambitious than the other, so I want to have an “out” in case the first is too hard. This is how I approach to-do lists. Also maybe life.

 Just realized I have two number sixes. I’m leaving them.

What is on your summer to-do list? Besides your second jobs to make ends meet and your professional development and your curriculum writing and just in general recovering from a job that people think only lasts from 8-4 Monday through Friday nine months out of the year? Tell me what you're cooking (and which cookbooks you're using), what you're reading, what you're catching up on, what you're binge-streaming. Or just send me pictures of your pets.

I’ve missed you. And summer. It’s going to be a good one.



*Have you ever tried to use someone else’s lesson plans/curriculum? It feels like wearing someone else’s underwear**. I can’t do it.  So I write my own.
**I have not done this often.