In front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Teacher/Poet or Poet/Teacher?

Today a funny thing happened in my middle school classroom. The teacher stopped "teaching" and became a writer being interviewed by her students.  We were watching a video about an author of one of the stories in their textbook.  When it was over, someone asked me what my writing routine was.  I've told my students that I write poetry and have always written poems with them for classwork. But I've never really just talked to them about who I am as a writer, what I do and why I do it. 

This day was different - I put aside the set curriculum for 20 minutes and just let them ask questions -- and they had some really good ones.  One boy asked if I thought it was better to start writing when you were still young or was it okay to wait until you were older.   That is something near and dear to my heart because I never really wrote when I was a child even though I "wanted" to be a writer.  I told them that I always loved reading books which had as the main character a girl who wrote -  Little Women and the Betsy/Tacey books in particular - and that although I dreamed I'd be like them I didn't do anything about it until I was an adult.  I had to admit that I thought it would have been better for me if I had started sooner, if I had taken myself more seriously, if I had worked harder. I asked them to think about whether they wanted to create art in some way - to write, paint or play an instrument. If they did, I wanted to encourage them create a space for it in their lives when they are young, to feel the joy of creation now.

Who was more affected by this whole conversation - the students or myself?  As with all middle school teaching, it may be years before I know if any student took this to heart enough to start on their own writing career.  That's the wonder and the ache of teaching adolescents - I have to have faith that I am touching their lives even though they may never tell me.  However, I do know that their genuine interest in me as a writer, their desire to understand me just a little bit more touched my heart in a way I won't forget.


  1. What a great blog. Loved it! Congrats and looking forward to the next one....This will be my bedtime reading!

  2. To paraphrase Henry Adams, you'll never know where your influence ends. Teaching is a high calling, and poets can't help doing some of that! How lucky your students are, and what a warm experience, to be invited into your "extracurricular" life! Some students will act on your advice, others will pass it on it in other ways, but they'll all remember it and feel encouraged. Whatever satisfaction you have from this generosity is well deserved. Casey

  3. Lisa,

    As a fellow poet teacher, I felt my kid self responding--I would have loved being one of your students, being let in, as an equal, to discuss the process of creativity with a practicing writer. I know down the road you'll hear from someone, likely many someones, about that particular day in your classroom.

  4. Wow-Lisa, I so enjoyed your post! As someone who has also taught, your comments moved me. I realized this year that the things I miss so much about teaching are the ability to have a postive impact on students' lives and especially all the amazing things I've learned from them!

  5. "The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens." -- Rilke

    I thought what you said to your students was wonderful -- I wish someone had said it to me. Maybe I would have taken myself more seriously and worked harder, too.