Monthly Archives: April 2014

What Poetry Can Do: Life Lessons Part 2

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon here! My spirit is full from a lovely church service, my tummy is full from an enjoyable lunch with friends, and now I hope to fill you with a few more life lessons I have learned from the Poetry Box Project.  In preparing for the arrival of the Poetry Box, I had our local librarian collect as many books written by our poetry authors as she could find for me.  One of the books drew my attention right away.  It was “Knock at a Star” by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy (X.J has the beginning of a poem in the Poetry Box).  They listed six things that poetry can do for children.  Those six are included in my life lessons post last time and in this one today, along with two more I added so that we had a balloon message for each classroom. Here we go…..image

Message 5 : “Poetry Sends Messages”

In this month long excursion into poetry, I think the students and I have enjoyed the poems that have sent  funny messages the most!  You know what I mean.  The ones that talk about underpants, bratty sisters, boogers, or teachers being eaten by aliens.  There is something about being in a room of children and having in your hands the power to make them laugh!  And how fun it is as a teacher to laugh right along with them!  (even if they are laughing whille picturing me being eaten by aliens…) Sometimes it would start with a snicker or a giggle, then came the snort, and finally the all out belly shaking, knee slapping, fall out of your chair laugh!  It is a joyous sound and one that is heard far too little in today’s classrooms…..don’t get me started.  I tell my students the first day of school that they need to know that their Second Grade Teacher is Crazy!  (And she is!) I am letting them see that I will make mistakes, have bad hair days, wear mismatched socks, and countless other things.  This creates a safe place for them to be themselves too.  I believe learning should be fun, whether it is learning in the classroom or learning to navigate life. When is the last time you have had a side-splitting, tears down the cheek laugh?  We need to laugh more!  We need to learn to laugh at those little bumps in the road we encounter every day.  We need to learn to laugh at ourselves and allow others to laugh right along with us. We need to make life a safe place to be ourselves. It is pretty hard to be mad at each other or make fun of one another if we are laughing in unison at the comedy act that is life!

Message 6:  “Poetry Starts You Wondering”

We have read many poems about animals and nature.  They have prompted us to wonder about the world around us. One of the scary parts of being a teacher is having to be prepared for hard questions.  Children wonder about a lot of things and they are not afraid to ask.  It happens often during Science time.  The world is an amazing place and there is so much to learn!  I love to turn the hard questions back to the children and ask them why they think things are so.  Their answers are sometimes so full of eight year old wisdom that I have to pause and take it all in.  Having curiousity like a child is a trait I hope to always possess.  Every year we study the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly and every year when the children have gone home and the room is empty, I stare at the caterpillars hoping to witness the exact moment they become a chrisilys and every year it happens in the blink of an eye.  It is a true miracle that keeps me wondering and wondering is a good thing!  So, whether we are wondering about nature, other cultures, religion, problems we see, or our future, we need to do it with the enthusiasm and curiousity of an eight year old.  If we do, we will open ourselves to the limitless possibilities the world has in store for us.

Message 7:  “Poetry Makes Music Out of Words”

I have a confession to make.  I am a music-a-holic.  It’s true.  I can’t get enough.  I like all kinds.  Some people would say that my iPod is filled to excess.  I say, I was born with a musical soul. I pretty much hear a song in my head all day long. (Crazy remember?)  I even wake up at night sometimes with lyrics going through my mind.  I think that is why I love poetry so much.  The words in a poem create a melody and a beat that makes me want to sing along.  There are songs and poems for bad times and sad times in life.  There are songs and poems for joyous and glad times.  They speak to me.  They comfort me. They inspire me.  I want my life to do that for my students, family, and friends too.  I want to be there for them in their good and not so good times.  I want to have the right words to say.  I want to comfort and uplift them.  Most of all I want to inspire them with a tune that helps them want to become the best they can be. And if they awake in the dark of night, I hope that a message of hope, a song of joy, or a poem of love from me, crosses their mind and brings them into the light of day.

And finally, Message 8:  “Poetry Makes You Smile”

Poetry is about life.  It is a gift from one person to the world.  It touches us, challenges us. and can change us. I told the children in our school on the day we unveiled the Poetry Box that “there was poetry in all of them”.  I do believe there is poetry in all of us. We are gifts to the world, we can touch others, challenge others, and bring about change.  Most of all, we all have the power to help someone find their smile.  I hope these lessons have helped you find yours.

What Poetry Can Do: Life Lessons

I promised in my last post that I would talk to you about the messages on the balloons that were part of the Poetry Box unveiling.  It is interesting that in the last few days I have had conversations with different people about the legacy we leave behind and how we’ll be remembered at our funerals.  What do funerals have to do with Poetry?  Funny you ask……

Who would have known (not I), how this interaction with poetry would end up teaching me so many life lessons.  The messages on each balloon are a good example.   I wrote the messages to provoke thought around poetry in the kids’ minds and then hoped it would spark  conversations.  Little did I know that each of the messages not only represents something poetry can do, but also have provided me with a better vision of a blessed life!  So here we go!image

Message 1:  “Creates Images”

Just as the poet’s words can conjure images up in our minds, so can we leave images with others we come in contact with.  There are those pictures we can bring forth from our memories of images that have touched us.  A stranger’s smile just when we needed it most, your grandma’s open arms as you arrive for a visit, or a child’s eyes lighting up when she finally understands.  We choose everyday what images we leave with those around us.  I am becoming more aware how important it is to leave as good an image as I can, as often as I can, so that those who are watching are left with beautiful pictures when they need them.

Message 2:  “Helps You Understand People”

Poetry is a safe place where you can express yourself freely.  Reading poetry exposes us to different values, beliefs, customs, thoughts, and ideas.  It helps us see the world in a new way.  We need to be open to read people and allow ourselves to be read in the same fashion, letting our differences create beautiful verses together, one building on another.

Message 3:  “Shares Feelings”

There is a reason why certain poems have lasted through the centuries; they elicit strong feelings in the reader!  Poetry is often the language of love.  The Psalmists used it as heartfelt praise.  There are poems that express every feeling a human has ever felt.  That’s why we love poetry.  We discover we are not alone in our feelings.  There is nothing more reassuring as when someone says, “I know how you feel.  I’ve been through it too”.  Sharing our feelings with each other is risky.  It is uncomfortable.  It is sometimes embarrassing.  But sharing your feelings with someone else is also the greatest gift you can give them (and here’s a little secret it is a gift for yourself too!)

Message 4:  “Poetry Tells Stories”

I am a story teller at heart.  I love to use my words and phrases to draw a listener into my tale.  To make them feel as if they are one of the characters and part of the action.  Poets do the same thing with their rhythm and rhyme.  They lure us into their story with their web of verse and suspend us there until we reach the end, leaving us wanting more.  This is life!  We all have a story to tell!  Some funny, some sad, some scary, some boring, you get the picture, but a story to tell  just the same.  We all like to tell them (some over and over again) to any audience we can find.  Sometimes, we are all trying to tell them at once and we get louder and louder and louder until no one can hear anything….  I think the lesson here is that yes, we do have a story but we don’t always have to be the teller.  It is important to also be a willing listener.  For what magic do we miss out on when we hear only our own story?  What heights might we soar by hearing what others have to say?  Instead of seeing ourselves as story tellers, why not be story collectors?

These first four balloon messages while intended to describe poetry, have helped me see a little more clearly the person I hope to be remembered as.  I hope that each day, I leave an uplifting image with someone I meet.  I aspire to be understanding and accepting of the differences between myself and others and to build on those differences to create strong relationships.  I want to be more willing to bare my soul and share my feelings with those who need reassurance all the while realizing that I need it too.  And I hope that one day when I am being remembered people will laugh at some of stories I’ve told, but in their hearts they will recall that I collected theirs too.


Life is a Poem


Opening the big yellow box, unveiling the Poetry Box, and me talking with the Poetry Pooch!

The day I had been waiting and planning for finally arrived last Friday when I unveiled the Poetry Box to the students!  Picture one hundred plus children, a big yellow box, and one nervous teacher gathered together in the school cafeteria.  My heart was pounding like a drum. Would everything come together?  Would the kids buy into my plan?  Would they actually be excited about poetry?  I am glad to tell you YES, YES, and YES!

Oohs and Aahs filled the room when my teacher friend and I opened the top of the box and eight helium balloons floated out, each balloon bearing a message (more about that later).  What came next is still a blur to me and I am sure would have been a great embarassment to my own children!  Checking the box for anything else, I found…..wait for it……an invisible dog who introduced himself to me as the “Poetry Pooch”!  I reported to the children that he was there to “sniff a whiff of poetry” and boy did he ever!  That pooch pulled me screaming, all around the cafeteria until he found his way back to the big yellow box and it was there he sniffed out the Poetry Box.  I have to tell you that the giggles, snickers, and out and out laughs were music to this ole teacher’s ears and warmed my heart! (The rest of me was warmed by the running around the cafeteria….don’t know what I was thinking!)

With the help of the Poetry Pooch I told the kids about the Poets and their poems waiting to be finished and then how they would be sent in the box around the United States and maybe the world.  Again, oohs and aahs.  Each child then worked at writing a short poem to finish the afternoon’s activities.  It is hard for me to put into words what the room sounded like as they wrote their poems. Almost every one of the students, Kindergarteners through Sixth Graders, was engaged in poetry!  The room was alive!  It was one of those magical moments in teaching!

As the day ended I was exhausted but I felt better than I had for a long time.  I’d been in my element, doing what I love! There is such satisfaction when hard work pays off.  We have all had these moments.  They are what keep us going when we are completing the mundane, everyday responsibilities we have to do.  It is easy to sink into the feeling that what we do at home, at work, at church, or in the community is unimportant.  Thankfully as we are about to go under, someone or something comes along that sparks our inner flame,  pulls us out of the mire, and for a short while we are oblivious to what we look like racing around a room with an invisible dog because, our hearts are soaring, children are laughing, and life is a poem!


Sweet Smelling Life

You would think after thirty-two years in the classroom that I have seen it all. Well, children never stop surprising me. When my students came into the classroom I noticed a strong fragrance of coconut. They unpacked and got settled into their desks. Our room REALLY smelled good. Another teacher came in and she commented on the coconut smell and one of my little girls announced that she was the one who smelled so good. I asked her what made her smell that way and she proceeded to say; “You know that stuff you spray in the bathroom? Well, I sprayed it all over me this morning!” Yes, air freshener used as body spray! Of course I explained that it was not good to be sprayed with bathroom spray and she promised she’d never do it again. I am not sure what brand it was but it had a long lasting aroma, that’s for sure!

I can’t say it ever occurred to me to spray myself with air freshener but there have been times that I wished I could cover up some of my grime so others would just see the sweet smelling side of me.  Covering up my weaknesses, insecurities, and failures just feels safer than exposing the real me. I tell my second graders all the time that it is ok to make mistakes, and just to do their best but I don’t often apply those thoughts to myself.  I think that is how we lose ourselves. We present the sweet side pretending there isn’t a smelly side.  And we’re all doing it! How much better would our world be if we shared our flaws and supported each other in our weaknesses? What if we got to know each other and cared for each other at our most vulnerable moments?

We live in a world where the perfect body, in the perfect outfit, with the perfect hair and makeup are seen as beautiful and accepted. I am here to tell you that this old gal sags and bags in all the wrong places, elastic waist pants are closer to becoming  my style and my hair? Naturally curly with a mind of its own. Oh, and putting eye makeup on is like driving a jeep over a gravel road. My point is, we spend so much time trying to let everyone believe we are what we are not and in the process miss out on embracing who we really are. I know because this is a lesson I am learning and it’s time for me, and all of us, to leave the air freshener in the bathroom where it belongs and be who we are really meant to be. Only then will we be living the sweet smelling life.

Arrived and Excited

imageThe Poetry Box has arrived!  It came to school on Wednesday and I when I opened it, I was greeted by these smiling authors’ faces.  As you can see I posted them as one more clue for the students leading up to the unveiling.  I have been watching from afar and have noticed a few children discussing that the pictures match some of the books on the table, exactly as I had hoped!  The curiosity is growing and so is my excitement!

Arriving at a destination usually does bring excitment!  A family gathering, the beach, a cabin getaway….the closer I get to each of these the more my anticipation grows!  I find myself in a funny place now, however, in my life’s journey……the end of my teaching career.  While there are moments of excitement there is also a mix of jumbled emotions I am not quite sure what to do with.  Sadness, fear, and insecurity mixed with joy, relief, and satisfaction.  Now that I think about it, I guess I have been here before :  moving from Michigan to West Virginia to teach, getting married, and having a family to name a few, and now the new path of retirement.  We are all on the road going different directions.  Some trips more pleasant than others. While we may feel that we have made a wrong turn, found ourselves at a dead-end, or are in the middle of unchartered waters we are not alone.  It continuously amazes me how God brings me just what I need when I need it!  This weekend I have been questioning myself about making the right decision to retire or not; and today this was my scripture reading:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

do not depend on your own understanding.

  Seek His will and he will direct your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

My destination may be unknown to me, but my GPS (God’s Positioning System) will guide my steps.  I HAVE arrived but my new path awaits…… Now THAT is exciting!