Category Archives: Teaching


More poetry, please.

Children should read more poetry, and not just the rhyming, humorous kind in the style of Prelutsky or Silverstein, though I love those poems too. I guess what I’m saying is that children should read more for the experience of language and how it effects you without having to puzzle out a central idea, because I think it’s extremely difficult to do the work it takes to makes sense of difficult text if you haven’t already developed an appreciation for how words can pluck away at your senses in endless compositions.

The other day I gave my students the Robert Hass poem “TIme and Materials” to read and respond to. Their response in some cases was strong and surprising. “These aren’t even words!”, one student remarked about how as the poem moves on, letters start to disappear, a trick that if you’re open to the play of language strikes you as brilliant. But, if you’ve come to expect that words follow rules and our primary objective is to understand, the tricks of poets can be maddening.

I had a conversation recently where a friend remarked that she couldn’t believe how much homework there is in first grade these days. It’s true. And have you seen the nature of that homework? Is it any wonder that so often the struggle with our best students as English teachers is they are so concrete? Even when the write about poems or fiction, their default is to say “the writer explains”.

I’m probing the edges of other topics here, finding it difficult not to follow the tangents. I started with “children should read more poetry”, and I’m tempted to say what I really mean is something about the impact of over-testing or global economic terror or the information age, but no, what I really mean is just that. By the time they come to me in high school, poetry is far more strange to them than it should be.


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Temps will be in the eighties all week

The first full week of school and temps will be in the eighties all week. The fast pace of the year has started and I find myself keeping up and standing back, mouth agape, wishing I had one more day to read all day, one more morning to spend in my pajamas writing until noon.

It’s the pace that gets me, though I take to it with the timing of a cook. My co-teacher is always getting behind, wondering how I’ve managed to get through all we so optimistically planned for that day.

Yesterday I laid down some propositions about reading to my seniors. Among those propositions: Reading can change your life. Several nodded. One kid looked at me like I’d said something challengeable and another’s hand shot up. Were these my propositions he wanted to know or did I get them from the approved curriculum?

Eighty percent of my freshmen indicated in the Google Survey I gave them that they will write if they have to. Many also indicated their top reading goal: read faster.

When I stand back, as I am doing right now, I look forward most of all to reading days and creative writing prompts like It was a dark and stormy night or In that moment, she realized.


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Teacher/Writer: Struggling to Find A Writing Schedule

Summer time is prime writing time for me. My best teacher friend (who also happens to be a fiction writer) and I devise an escape plan at the end of every school year to immerse ourselves in a writing life. We do this to avoid the inevitable. School ends and the routine that we have spent all year perfecting and shaping drops away, leaving us not free and inspired, but lost and looking for our keys. This year (because of a late release date) we didn’t do this. Until now. Here we are in Packwood, WA where I have no cell service and I have to sit on the roof to steal Internet from the neighbors who own the pug named Gary (who stops by every once in a while to make sure we are all settled in).
The first day here I was like a kid with ADD during a history lecture. Read for a while. Pace the floor. Write a letter. Walk down to the river, throw myself down on the sand and pray to the River Gods for aid. At least three times, I was ready to pack it up and go home, ready to say, you know what, I finished my one book, that’s all I’ve got.
Finally, I was able to sift through some short stories and decide which ones were worth the hard work of revision and set aside three that are the seeds of future novels. At that point, I couldn’t delude myself. I had a complete draft of a novel I’ve needed to write since 2005, three future novel seeds, five stories that even the thought of revising gives me a mild endorphin rush. I will write. I have to.
This whole situation is really a false dilemma that I have been handed the solution to countless times. Build a habit. Keep a schedule. Set attainable goals.
So, what’s the problem?…
I am accustomed to my teacher schedule, wherein every year the schedule begins anew and every summer, the comfort of that routine drops away. So, here’s what I decided while I was walking around the neighborhood here in Packwood trying to get even one bar on my cell phone so I could send that one last text message. It’s high time I separated my teaching life and my writing life and came up with a writing schedule that will work for me year round. If I am able to write more in the summer (because I have more time), well nothing keeps me from writing above and beyond the schedule, right? I need to create a summer schedule that will also work during the school year and hold myself accountable to that schedule.

My schedule: Thursday through Sunday
Goal: @ least 1000 words or 6-10 pages of revision
What’s your schedule?
See my success rate here.


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