Question: What does the successful teacher of poetry to young children do?
Answer: “The notion that we should leave the poem to do its own work without the teacher’s interference is not supported by the research, which suggests instead that the right teacher presence is essential. What the right teacher does is more difficult to pinpoint. However, a number of qualities have emerged from the research. Good poetry teachers do at least some of the following:
. like poetry and take it seriously and expect pupils to work at it
. are enthusiastic
. emphasize the pleasure of poetry
. are flexible, experimental, and like novel teaching situations
. provide more amusing and varied activities
. consult pupils on choice of poems
.allow conversational and informal discussion
. interact with pupils in consultation and discussion
. seek out pupils’ views, listen to their interpretations, and treat them with respect and seriousness
*. do not make pupils afraid of saying the wrong thing, offering sympathy and encouragement when ideas are voiced
*. encourage exploration of pupils’ personal experiences in relation to poems
*. support the feeling that the emotional experience of poetry is real
Comment: I think the starred characteristics of teaching poetry successfully are crucial. Who hasn’t heard the complaint of older students that “if the critics or the teacher say that is what it means, then there’s no use arguing”? The same with encouraging relating personal experience to poems. An example is Karl Shapiro’s “Auto Wreck.” Almost every student has experienced auto wrecks either in person or seen one on the local news or in the local newspapers. Finally, an emphasis on the emotional experience of poetry as real needs be reinforced. Emotion is the heart of poetry. RayS.
Title: “The Poetry Teacher: Behavior and Attitudes.” DMM Travers. Research in the Teaching of English (December 1984), 367-384.