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When I signed up for Laynie Browne's "At the Intersection of Teaching and Writing" course at the University of Arizona, I didn't expect to fall in love with teaching. I thought I would get a fun elective credit toward my Creative Writing degree and get to work with cute kids in the process. The course has forced me to reevaluate this notion of teaching poetry as a fun pastime, and to consider teaching as a career. I have never been so taken aback by my reaction to a college course, and I have never felt so passionately about an assignment. Working towards a residency has been extremely fulfilling, and interacting with a classroom of second graders has been nothing short of world changing. As a writer, it is so easy to forget why I do what I do. Aren't I just trying to get a degree? But, as it turns out, I am after so much more, and it took the talents of seven year old children to remind me of that.
Every time I visited Ms. Dunn's second grade classroom, I remembered why I fell in love with writing in the first place, and why it's not just work, but art that has the power to change the world, or at least my small part in it. I was astounded by the raw artistic talent that second graders possess, and the absolute confidence with which they put forth this talent into writing that is shockingly beautiful. They don't have the same inhibitions that adults have, and their writing is full of vulnerability, but also an incredible assuredness. They know their imaginations to be the truth, and I have yet to witness one of Ms. Dunn's writers second guess themselves after putting pencil to paper. What they produce is full of personality and life, a part of their limitless inner self set to words. Their confidence inspired me to find my own, and their pure delight at creating poetry helped me recreate my own love for something that was rapidly becoming just a major, a subject that I took classes in so I could earn a diploma. Because of this, I am tremendously excited to work with second graders next semester as I begin teaching, and my only worry is that I won't be able to give them as much as they will teach me.
University of Arizona's Poetry Center rises up from the ground in clean, straight lines and sharp angles, all steel and glass. It is legendary within the English Department for being home to the extensive poetry library and for the authors who come to do readings. I've been at the U of A for three years and have had the Poetry Center extolled to me in numerous classes, but never knew where it was.
It's a Saturday morning in October and I'm on my way to assist with a session of Poetry Joeys. I'm a little nervous as I walk up--for a writer, I am considered annoyingly gregarious, but in truth I am an introvert with somewhat severe social anxiety. There have been many Christmas parties and other social functions which I have bailed out on at the last minute due to impending panic. This game of 'social activity roulette' adds a sense of uncertainty to every occasion.
by Daniela Ugaz
Daniela moved to Tucson about a year and a half ago to start her MFA. Since then she's been spending some of her time writing, some of it teaching, some of it reading, organizing, scrounging up money and, without which none of the other things would be possible, napping! Life is good.
I started working with kids when I was twenty. That was four years ago. Now that I think about it, actually, I babysat a couple times when I was in my early teens. It was a little boy. I don't remember his name anymore. I didn't like babysitting very much, I remember that. And the boy's mother stopped calling after I lied a few times, saying I couldn't, saying I had a swim meet or play practice. The next time I worked with kids I was a teaching assistant for a summer journalism workshop for "at risk" middle schoolers. Those kids were hard on me, or maybe I took it that way mistakenly. I'll never be president, one of the boys once said to me. The teacher had just said something like you can be anything you want to be, as long as you set your mind to it. I didn't know what to say to him. I liked the idea of that job more than the job itself.
by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
I taught a Halloween lesson at Apollo Middle School last fall that centered around mood and tone. I began by reading the opening of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book:
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade
finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might
not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
by Elizabeth Maria Falcón
Teaching 5th grade this spring at Corbett, I had a tendency to over-pack my lesson plans. There were so many activities, poems, discussion topics, and other exciting things I wanted to share that it was often a challenge to finish the lessons in the sixty minute class period. So one day, I decided to simplify. I created a lesson plan that involved only reading and discussing one poem, individual writing time, and sharing time.
We started out by reading William Carlos Williams' poem, "This Is Just to Say." I asked a volunteer to read the poem aloud, then I read it aloud, then we talked about the speaker and the intended audience, the motivation behind writing the poem and the tone of the poem.
My students needed no prompting to know that this "apology" note was no apology--they loved how the last stanza of the poem rubbed in the crime:
By Nina Vega-Westhoff
A classmate one day brought in to Laynie Browne's course "At the Intersection of Writing and Teaching" the Michael Stillman poem "In Memoriam John Coltrane." The poem was exciting, an immediate encounter with repetition, rhythm, and word play. As a class, we seemed to have a collective a ha! moment with the poem--I personally felt I should have discovered this poem long before--and so it seemed an ideal literary model around which to structure a lesson. But I wasn't sure how to do so--there were so many possibilities immediately suggested and yet I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with it.
by Laynie Browne & Benjamin and Jacob Davidson
Laynie Browne is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently The Desires of Letters (Counterpath Press, 2010). She is Elementary Education Coordinator for the Poetry Center and is currently developing an interdisciplinary outreach program to connect scientists and writers at University of Arizona and in the greater Tucson community.
Benjamin Davidson just finished 5th grade. His hobbies include writing, fossil hunting and spending time with his pet rabbit, Bunny Bunkins.
Jacob Davidson just finished 3rd grade. He loves math, bionicles, mechanical pencils, drawing and writing adventure and science fiction stories and comics. He also likes to take apart machines.
by Glen Grunberger
Glen Grunberger worked for many years as a somewhat sane, relatively stable attorney in Austin, Texas before committing the decidely un-sane, entirely destabilizing act of moving to Tucson last summer to enroll in the University of Arizona's MFA program in Creative Writing. He has just completed his first year as a fiction writer in the program, and while he's quite certain he's no longer certain of anything, he loves being able to say he hangs out with poets. Glen is accompanied by his fearless wife Sara, who teaches biology at Cholla High School in Tucson, and their dog, Maya, who teaches them both how to be human.
Of all the lessons I taught this past spring in my residency at Corbett Elementary, one of the easiest and most fun was writing poems "by" the children's pets. I introduced poems from the book Unleashed: Poems by Writers' Dogs as a springboard for the children to channel their favorite animals' voices. The goal was to tap into the ready enthusiasm and imaginative connections kids have for their pets and write poems from the first-person perspective of the animals. The lesson turned out to be a great way to exercise the young writers' skills with personification and dialogue and to develop that most essential of writerly muscles, empathy.
by Erin Armstrong
Erin Armstrong lives in Tucson, AZ and loves the unbearable heat that the desert offers. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Arizona and is trying to tackle the short story form. Her primary interest lies in the intersection of the genres, and the creation of hybrid pieces. She has read for Sonora Review, interned at Madden Media in the editorial department, and will be working with the magazine CutThroat next fall. She recently finished teaching at Keeling Elementary as a Teaching Artist and will be working for Summer Fine Arts this summer.
I don't think anyone will disagree that television, movies, and the Internet are entities that surround our students. I recently taught two fourth grade classes at Keeling Elementary, and one of my most successful lessons was allowing students to incorporate the characters that they have come to love, through these mediums, into their writing. I found that students weren't as exposed to reading books as I had expected, but television was something in their everyday life. While my ultimate goal was to promote reading and writing, I found that referencing a medium that students were familiar with helped me encourage the act of reading and writing. Students talked about this lesson plan for weeks, and I could often use this lesson as a reference in explaining other aspects of writing. This lesson gives students the chance to explore back-story, character development, description, and if they chose to mimic the literary model (the poem) they have a chance to explore rhyme.