Friday, May 10, 2019

Poetry Friday -- Teachers Who Write Poetry

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry)
by Dante Di Stefano

Write about walking into the building 
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful. 
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face 
of a student you’ve almost forgotten; 
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year. 
Do not conjecture about the adults 
he goes home to, or the place he calls home. 

(read the rest at

"This poem attempts to catch some of the heartbreak and some of the vibrancy from the first third of my teaching life. The architecture of the poem was suggested by Adam Gellings's poem 'Prompt,' and by Elaina Ellis's Poem 'Write About an Empty Birdcage.' "

"Dante Di Stefano has taught tenth and twelfth grade English for eleven years in upstate New York and is the winner of the 2019 On Teaching Poem Prize, judged by Richard Blanco. He is the author of two poetry collections: Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, 2019) and Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). A poetry editor for DIALOGIST, he holds a PhD in English from Binghamton University and lives in Endwell, New York."

Here's a Teacher Appreciation Week montage from a few years ago.
Study the contrasting images carefully. This could actually be a stanza in my poem.

Prompts (for Fifth Grade Teachers Who Write Poetry)
by Mary Lee Hahn, ©2019

Write about the final third of your teaching life.
Write about school shootings and lockdown drills
and about the talent show.
Write about the student grappling with ethnic cleansing in Myanmar
and about the district dodgeball tournament.
Write about poverty and bullying
and about the the sound of two dozen eleven-year-olds giggling.
Write about the relentless and dehumanizing assessments you are required to give
and about the joyful mess of oobleck.

Liz has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at her blog Elizabeth Steinglass.

In three weeks, the roundup will be here. Tabatha suggested a Naomi Shihab Nye themed week, and she INSISTS that she had no insider knowledge of the fact that this week Naomi Shihab Nye would be named Young People's Poet Laureate for 2019-2021 by the Poetry Foundation! Now we REALLY cause to celebrate Naomi Shihab Nye on May 31!!


  1. What an incredible response to Gelling's perfect to end with the joyful mess of oobleck. I think this a poem one can write in May ... not in hopeful August ...but after learning and disappointment and redemption. Beautiful job. And, Geller's poem...I read it the other day. JUST WOW!

  2. Mary Lee- I love, love, love this. You have capture the complexity, the joys of our teaching lives so beautifully. I needed this today.

  3. Di Stefano's poem is wonderful, and so is yours, Mary Lee! Much to celebrate here, and YES to Naomi Shihab Nye's appointment. What a great choice. xo

  4. Wow to this whole post. Loved both poems. The details capture the joys, sorrows, complexities and challenges of teaching. Thank you for all you do, Mary Lee.

  5. Mary Lee- I couldn't help but think about how teaching has changed in the past several years. You captured the joys and sorrows in one lovely poem. xo

  6. I love your poem for so many reasons! The contrast of joy "two dozen eleven year olds giggling" to tragedy "school shootings and lockdown drills" and then ending with "oobleck", there is so much telling here of the times we live in.

  7. I read that Di Stefano poem earlier this week and thought about sharing it myself at some point. Maybe I still will, maybe I won't, but I'm quite certain I could never write a response poem quite like yours, Mary Lee. Thank you for writing. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I saw that first one and loved it, now yours is one to cherish, too, Mary Lee. In my 'older' ones, even oobleck gave them joy. We were only beginning the lockdown drills when I retired. The saddest thing to me is that my granddaughters, when asked about them, say 'Oh, yeah, we have them." It is their lives. Thank you.

  9. Powerful post, Mary Lee. Thanks for sharing this new-to-me prize. All the poems (yours and the 2019 and 2018 winners) are very moving.

    1. Sorry, I meant the 2019 winner and finalist.

  10. I have tears and need a tissue. Your poem should be posted everywhere.
    AND I love the Nye inspired post for 5/31

  11. Wow. Just wow. These are two amazing poems that sum up the incongruity of our days perfectly. I love that you ended yours with oobleck.

  12. Ah, good ol' oobleck, the stuff of memories. ;) Thanks for sharing both of these, Mary Lee!

  13. Mary Lee, what a powerful poem you shared with us-exemplifying the contrasts we may see in the classroom. My second year of teaching in an urban setting, my school was in the middle of the red light district; a little one came to school crying because his hands were so cold; others had little to wear to weather the cold winters. I was so touched, so saddened but yet there were the smiles of success on faces hardened by years of not being recognized. Thank you for bringing that back to me and thanks for your powerful reply. Once again the contrasts were real and shocking. Security systems in schools are ratcheted up and teachers' PD consists of shooter training sessions. How horrible!

  14. Mary Lee, both poems are so very poignant. In spite of the challenges you and your students have faced, both inside and outside of the school walls, I can see that each child has touched your heart and that you've been a blessing to them all.

  15. Dante Di Stefano's poem makes my heart ache. So does yours, but I'm thankful for the joy in it. It's all those names of all those students. There are many who haunt me, but one in particular I really can't seem to forget. Even when we know they are hurt, rescuing them is another matter.

  16. These are stunning. I think we need a collection of these written by teachers or perhaps everyone whose job is to care.

  17. The section that begins "Write about the uncounted hours" in Di Stefano's poem -- yes. That was me for years after I left classroom teaching. Your poem contains delights and horrors, true of the craft of being an educator.

  18. This line is a doozy: "Write
    a poem containing the words “common”
    “core,” “differentiate,” and “overdose.”"
    Your response post is so powerful. I, too, love that you ended with the messy optimism of oobleck, matter that seems to defy classification. That seems so fitting.

  19. Both of these are a powerful poem and response that show the tragedy and humor and pathos and joy of teaching.

  20. I love the last line of your poem and all the videos on oobleck–comic relief yes! Your poem is a fantastic response to Dante Di Stefano, thanks for all you do with your students and your sense of humor we sure need it. Wonderful about Naomi Shihab Nye!


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