Where will tomorrow’s poets come from?

Hi everyone,

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.

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6 comments on “Where will tomorrow’s poets come from?

  1. David, I taught school for 26 years and my concerns mirror yours. I don’t think they even allow kids time to be creative anymore. It’s sad and disturbing. I don’t blame it on the teachers. I blame it on the testing and the fact that teachers feel that pressure and have shifted focus to testing strategies and do a lot of “teaching to the test.” I worry about them squelching creativity. Creativity is a big part of problem solving in my opinion. I know a lot of teachers (probably all) feel they are between a rock and a hard place. My niece kind of bucked the system last year and did her own thing with a group of low performing students. Their progress was unbelievable. She allowed for a great dose of creativity and had students passing the reading test that had never come close. I know a lot of things in education come full circle but something needs to happen soon.
    I do wonder how many teachers are having the kids actually write, instead of just study, poetry. They have so much to cram into a day that I’m not sure they are taking the time to let students “develop the habit of looking around, observing, and writing a poem.”

    • Hi, Penny,
      I appreciate your thoughtful comments and shared concern. You’re right about the cycles of educational thrust. They tend to run a course over time until enough data are collected to feed the next cycle. I hope the physical act of writing creatively somehow manages to survive.

    • Well sure, but not everyone can make nonfiction dance and sing like you do, my dear Cheryl. I agree with your point of course, and I don’t mean to slight the worth of writing nonfiction, the joy of doing it well, or the pleasure of reading it. XO!

  2. I agree with both, but as a kid, myself, I wrote short stories in school and at home writing in my journal, it was poetry. Encourage public libraries in the children department to have poetry programs to share reading and writing poetry. They have a large source to draw from: magazines and book on their shelves.

    • Good idea, Mary Nida. Year around activities at public libraries frequently include creative outlets for those who can get there.

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