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Using Poetry for Reflection and Conversation

Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Hardcover, 288 pp., $19.95
ISBN: 978-1118459430


Today we’re proud to announce the debut of Teaching With Heart: Poetry That Speaks to the Courage to Teach. Here is a reflection by Rick Jackson, Co-Founder and Senior Fellow, who helped the editors select the final stories from hundreds of wonderful submissions. (Learn more about the book.)

As I page through Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach, I’m struck by the deeply thoughtful writing that surrounds and upholds the entirety of the book—a book that recognizes this simple and enduring truth: To do the tough, demanding work of educating our children in the face of so many pressures requires enormous passion, courage and poetry.

  1. At the heart of the book are the heartfelt, moving stories of 90 diverse teachers, educators and administrators who write about how each poem speaks to them and guides their teaching. As Amy Harter in her story and poem, below, captures both the struggles and dedication of teachers who “keep standing up—for myself, for my students, and for the integrity of my profession.”
  2. In an opening Note to the Reader, authors/editors, Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner declare their intention to “…strive faithfully to honor the noble aspirations of the profession.” This volume certainly does that!
  3. In Parker Palmer’s Foreword, he asks “Where do teachers find the resources necessary to continue to serve our children in such difficult circumstances?” Then Palmer names the sources: In the human heart… and in communities of mutual support. How true.
  4. In Taylor Mali’s bold and moving Introduction, he writes: “Whether teaching or writing, what I really am doing is shepherding revelation; I am the midwife to epiphany.” And Mali adds this affirmation: “…poetry replenishes the well because it is another way of teaching.”
  5. In paragraphs that introduce each section with deeply moving language, Sam and Megan note how: “The teachers describe how reading poetry provides a low-tech version of time-lapse photography.” “The work of good teaching is quiet, hidden, and often immeasurably subtle.”
  6. How Wendell Berry’s poem Real Work, below, “refers to the beauty of important work done well and the heartbreak of important work that is beyond what one can accomplish. This paradox is the heart and soul, the wonder and burden, of the teaching life.”
  7. In Sarah Brown Wessling’s richly personal Afterword, she reminds us that “…the center of all good teaching is a nexus of humility, an understanding that teaching isn’t about the teacher, it’s about the learner.”
  8. No wonder John Merrow’s endorsement includes his desire to buy copies of Teaching with Heart for all the teachers he has interviewed in forty years of reporting.
  9. No wonder Sonia Nieto calls the book “…a wake-up call to the nation about the value of its teachers.”
  10. No wonder Diana Chapman Walsh claims that the book is “…the best possible field guide…” for “…every teacher with heart…” to keep close at hand “…while carrying society’s most sacred trust.”
  11. And there is even another bonus. The final chapter is a gem of a guide to unleash “poetry’s capacity to touch the human soul and open up opportunities for us to retain our humanity.”  (Click to get this chapter as a free download, Using Poetry for Reflection and Conversation.)

For all the headwinds in the face of teachers, this book—truly a gift—puts wind beneath their wings.

An Excerpt from Teaching With Heart:

In this, my fifth year of teaching, I’ve already been shuffled around to various teaching positions—urban, rural, private, and public. I’ve striven for excellence in my profession, but I’ve also been laid off, had my salary cut, and been told that I’ve entered a career without promise. But like many of my fellow teachers who face similar situations, I just keep standing up—for myself, for my students, and for the integrity of my profession.

“The Real Work” brings with it a simple, ringing truth that echoes my experience: hardship inspires innovation, honesty, and a desire to persevere enough to fight through. It is when we reach a dead end that multitudes of previously unseen paths open up to meet us. Thinking back on my own teaching paths, I realize that am my career’s cartographer, drafting a map rich with color and experience.

The poem also makes me think of my students, many of whom shoulder unthinkable burdens, yet still manage to employ their mind and spirit in the journey of learning. Students show bravery every time they put their own voice to a page despite the uncertainty that can come from all directions, without and within.

So much of teaching is doing the work of standing back up—knowing with profound certainty that our “baffled minds” are meant to do this “real work” of journeying together, to teach our students and ourselves that the struggles we overcome help strengthen the voice of our song.

—Amy Harter, High school English and theater arts teacher
Port Washington, Wisconsin

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

—Wendell Berry

Learn more about the book, Teaching With Heart.

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