When I began posting a word each month, in October 2009, we received many student poems submitted by teachers. Every month we met new, enthusiastic young people who took pride in having their classroom writing selected by their teacher and posted on Word of the Month.
In the beginning, we voted at the end of the month to choose the Poet of the Month. A group of wonderful poets pitched in to help judge: Charles Ghigna, Pat Lewis, Jane Yolen, Rebecca Dotlich, Sara Holbrook, Bobbi Katz, and Laura Purdie Salas. When some teachers pointed out that the act of choosing winners meant that everyone else became losers, I discontinued the practice. Almost without exception, adult readers have been supportive of student poets. Teachers have told us that such warm comments have meant a lot. In one high school class, the teacher said that many of her kids struggled to learn and to be published on Word of the Month made them feel ten feet tall.
Then it all stopped. Teachers became scheduled so tightly that they could no longer afford the time it takes to choose student poems and post them. Good teachers who love poetry and love teaching poetry threw in the towel. Now and then we still see some student poems but gone are the days when each month we could count on seeing the efforts of dozens of young people from across the country.
I’m uncertain about what this small sample signals. IF students are still being taught to write poetry in the classroom, I don’t worry as much. IF they aren’t writing poetry at all, I worry a great deal. Last week I had coffee with a public school superintendent who spoke of the need to nurture students’ creative efforts. We agreed that this is a key issue that needs attention. In a time when some areas have given up teaching art and music and have shut down school libraries, we need to ask where the next generations of creative young people will come from. These days great emphasis is placed on digging out information and writing nonfiction. Goodness knows we need that skill. But I wonder if a steady diet of nonfiction is enough to stimulate a love for all writing, enough to help young students feel the joy of writing a really good story, enough to develop the habit of looking around, observing, and writing a poem.