Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Teaching with Fire (Not Real Fire, Although That Would Certainly Be One Way to Catch Your Students' Attention)

Hello friends!

I had a professor, when I was in grad school, who liked to begin every class with a little pep talk. This probably sounds unbearably corny, but this man was so very sincere that you couldn't help but start cozying up to it. He was like Mr. Rogers with a Brooklyn accent.

This professor had a book called Teaching with Fire, which is a collection of poems contributed by teachers and accompanied by anecdotes from those teachers about why the poems are special to them. I didn't exactly remember any of the poems in particular, but I did remember the feeling I had when he read them. I felt like someone knew how confused and scared and tired I was as a new teacher, how I could feel my idealism leeching out of me on a minute-by-minute basis. And I came to relish those moments, sitting in a sterile classroom at the institution of higher learning in which I found myself, the sun setting over the city out the window, sipping a cup of hazelnut coffee and convincing myself to do this job for another day.

Last year, maybe while thinking of this person, I decided to start my school year with an inspirational reading. I felt a little silly, wondering if my students, politely though they listened, were thinking that I was the corny one, their starry-eyed English teacher, just like I'd initially thought my professor was either too touchy-feely or just a little cracked. But I think that that must have been a small part of starting the year on the right foot, because a few kids smiled while I read it, and when I finished, they were quiet, attentive, and, I swear, it seemed like most of them wanted to make me happy.

I got my own copy of Teaching with Fire over the summer. I'm trying to choose just the right piece to share with my new students on day one next week. As I reread some of the poems, I remembered a few of them, being read in the calm, reassuring, warm voice of my old teacher. But always the more I remembered just being in the room and feeling like I belonged.

What are you doing to make sure your kids feel like that on September 9? "Nothing" is the wrong answer.
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