Reclaiming poetry

When I started out as a teacher, I used to read poetry in my spare time. I loved reading poems, because poetry takes your head to a different space – it requires you to focus on the language and as a result, you can’t do it fast. As an English teacher, I speed read out of habit and it takes a real effort to slow down to read a novel; which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy reading novels, but I don’t exactly ‘dwell’ in them. Poetry was a good tonic – to enjoy it, you had to slow down, and so on off-days I’d sit with a cup of coffee and I’d read poems.

I haven’t done that for a while, and that’s mostly because I’m too busy. I’ve replaced my reading of poems with reading teaching blogs, in between binge-watching episodes of The Walking Dead. I’m early on in my career and I figured that it makes sense to get as much of a handle on pedagogy as I can, to ensure that when I go back to school in a week I can teach at my very best. Surely nobody could argue with that.

And yet… teaching blogs, whilst useful, are hardly great literature. Realistically, nobody should read thirty or forty of them a day. And nobody can exist on a diet of information indefinitely – you’d end up getting stressed, or overwhelmed, or never managing to switch off. It would actually, over time, make you a less good teacher, wouldn’t it? As when you saw your kids again you wouldn’t be alive to the possibilities of language and great writing, you’d be thinking about how to best implement your new ideas on marking. Useful, yes; inspiring, not so much.

There’s no use complaining that what I’ve ended up doing “isn’t why I got into teaching” – no job ever really works out exactly the way that you expect it to once you’re doing it, and I was hopelessly naïve when I started anyway. Pedagogy is important, but there comes a point where the marginal gains you’re making after reading yet another blog are so marginal that they’re almost not worth it. And I know by now that I’m at my best with my classes when I’m doing close language analysis on a piece of writing that makes them feel excited, or moved, or challenged, and I’m no use to them as a teacher if I’m not reading things that make me feel that way.

Maybe you think this is idealistic nonsense, but pedagogy isn’t all that there is. For my own sanity and for the wider goal of making my students people who enjoy literature and embrace new and challenging texts and experiences, I need to keep reading – even if that means reading just the top five blogs of the day. After all, what good is it to gain an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED grade but lose your soul in the process?

Reclaiming poetry

2 thoughts on “Reclaiming poetry

  1. Phil H says:

    Great blog. If you fancy a recommendation, Pascale Petit. I’m not a teacher, just a parent, but of course we do lots of teaching too, and I’m finding your blog really inspiring. I like the Tempest posts a lot.


    1. Thanks Phil, this is really encouraging; I’m glad to hear that non-teachers read the blog as well. Supportive parents are a wonderful asset for any teacher; keep up the hard work!

      I haven’t read Pascale Petit, but I gave her a look in my lunch break and liked what I saw – thanks for the recommendation. I always seem to end up back at R.S. Thomas in the holidays myself.


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