Celebrating a mentor and poetry

It’s Saturday.  Time to write and celebrate here with Ruth Ayres.

Today I celebrate a mentor. As I’ve said before on this blog, teaching and learning go hand in hand for me. The day I stop wanting to learn is the day I will need to stop teaching. Some of my best learning happens through interactions with colleagues- in the hallway, over lunch, in their classrooms, after school.  I’m grateful for the work I do, because I get to be in many classrooms with many teachers, and I learn something every day.

My mentor happens to be a colleague. I’m not even sure she knows she is my mentor. But, ever since I began teaching at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, I’ve watched, listened and learned from her. She teaches English to sixth graders, and every time I walk into her classroom I wish I was one of her students.

This year I  asked her if she would be willing to spend a little extra time with me, helping me grow. I shared with her several goals. One of those goals is to rethink how I teach poetry in my fourth grade reading group. The fourth graders I teach are voracious readers and thrive on challenge. I’ve always shared poems with my students, and they’ve always learned them. And if I am being honest, I’ve always been a little intimidated by poetry. How to teach it. What to teach. Which poems. Which poets. Did I even know enough to feel confident sharing and exploring poetry with my students? What could I do better? What might make those poetry explorations more meaningful for my students?

We’ve met twice, my mentor and I. She’s made several suggestions including: pick one poet and share/study/learn several of his poems, share poems that somehow connect with the book your class is reading together, go deeper-rather than wide. She shared with me how she teaches poems. She encouraged me to find recordings of the poet reading some of his/her poems and share the recordings with students. She suggested I include visuals when introducing the poem. She gave me a copy of Naiomi Shihab Nye’s This Same Sky. It’s a beautiful collection of poems.

My class just finished reading Cynthia Lord’s latest book A Handful of Stars. And while we read that, we explored a few Robert Frost’s poems. (Towards the end of the book, there is a reference to Robert Frost’s poem “Blueberries.”)  We began with “A Time to Talk,” since we were talking a lot about friendship while reading Handful.  It is short, and not overwhelming. One fourth grader admitted on the first day that he never gets what a poem says when he first reads it, and he is tempted to give up there. That was something we could all understand. “A Time to Talk” was just the right one to begin with. Our discussions about friendship became much richer as we looked at and talked about the poem. We also listened to Robert Frost read “The Road Not Taken.” My students were mesmerized by his gravelly voice.

Next, we read “October.”They loved it. But even more exciting, they had a little bit of confidence when tackling the poem- figuring out what the poet was trying to tell the reader. And then we moved on to “After Apple Picking.” We’re going to share that one with the whole school at our upcoming poetry festival. My students have dug into these poems, and loved the experience. They’ve learned about Robert Frost… they’re still marveling about the fact that he dropped out of two prestigious colleges. I am feeling much more satisfied, and confident with poetry. And I think my students are too.

So today I celebrate my mentor. She gave me some good ideas, sound advice and a couple of resources. My fourth graders and I are loving our poetry work this year.

8 thoughts on “Celebrating a mentor and poetry

  1. Being someone who has totally confused Cynthia Rylant's name with Cynthia Lord's, I want to correct you that Handful of Stars is by Cynthia Lord. You are welcome to correct and then delete my comment.
    The advice of your colleague was very good, going deep with a single poet. Your students will always remember Robert Frost and the time they shared in your class experiencing his poetry.


  2. It's both wonderful that you continue to learn, and that you've asked a colleague to mentor you. Not everyone is willing to admit they want help. There are many ways to love poetry, and loving it with your students is a great way to start. I love that Nye anthology-she has others that are good too.


  3. It's great that you such a wonderful colleague who shares with you. I am so delighted to hear that you are instilling a love of poetry in your students. May I suggest that you check out the poetry galleries that I have created. They can be used as mentor text. The latest one is at http://beyondliteracylink.blogspot.com/2015/09/unveiling-of-summer-splashings-gallery.html with an invitation to the newest one at http://beyondliteracylink.blogspot.com/2015/09/finding-fall-invitation.html. I also have ideas for digital poetry lessons on my blog site. Best of luck, Lisa. I just connected with you on Twitter.


  4. Isn't it fun to learn from a colleague? I love that she has helped you feel more confident about teaching poetry. A win – win for you and for your students. “After Apple Picking” is one of my favorite Frost poems! And your post sent me to my favorite Frost book to revisit October, such a lovely poem.


  5. I agree with you : “The day I stop wanting to learn is the day I will need to stop teaching.” That is what it's all about! And I'm with you on the poetry front too! I've always felt like I'm missing something when I read a poem. I worry that my thinking isn't deep enough to really “get” it! Thank you for sharing your learning this morning and celebrating a colleague who is also a mentor. Something we all have but don't often hold up as often as we should!


  6. I love that you reached out to a colleague- in my mind that's the best kind of PD there is. And it sounds like you are learning a lot and your kids are really benefitting.


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