Poets Online Archive



September 2012

Labor Day has passed and in the United States that means the unofficial end of summer and back to school. There are many poems about school. After all, poets probably learned at least some of their craft in a classroom. It may have been their first exposure to poetry.

We did a writing prompt here before on what happens in the classroom. But this month, we are looking at the teacher.

Our model poem comes from the brand new collection, The Place I Call Homeimg, by Maria Mazziotti Gillan. Her teacher, Miss Spinelli, is that teacher that we all want to have in school. I have spent my whole life in classrooms either as a student or teacher. If you're a teacher, it's how we want to be remembered by our students - "wrapped in a veil of shimmering light."

Miss Spinelli's classroom was one where "she carved out a space / where I could be safe" and that's a very important thing for a teacher to do. It's a plus that she read poems and encouraged a young girl to write.

Of course, not all teachers are Miss Spinelli. And not all of our memories of teachers are in shimmering light.

The Poetry Foundation collected poems about teachers and school that cover a wide range of teacher memories.
Your own submission can can take any point of view you wish about teachers. You can view things from behind the big desk in the front of room or from the smaller desks looking at the sage on the stage. Your teacher might be a Miss Spinelli. Or not.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


I can take it when my mind is like a kindergarten class,
When the old teacher with the blue hair
Has dozed off at her desk
And is drooling on her blotter;
And the class bully is punching a chubby kid
For his milk money;
And some big babies are crying
And banging their foreheads on the desk
Because they miss their mommies;
And one myopic kid with his two hands around a blue crayon
Is struggling to stay within the lines of a horse.

It’s when my heart is that way,
As if the pet hamster has escaped again
And the little girls are standing on their desks shrieking
And the boy who is repeating kindergarten
Is drawing disproportionate penises on the Teletubbies in his book;
While the teacher’s aide demonstrates the proper way
To shove a paperclip into the electrical receptacle,
That I worry.

Ron Yazinski


The mad rush for the classroom door
When the recess bell rang.
"Stop!" shouted our teacher,
Her large frame blocking the open door.
"Women and children first!" she commanded,
Stepping aside,
Allowing her puzzled students to file quietly out the door.
"Women and children first!"

After recess our new teacher told us about the Titanic,
The iceberg,
The wounded ship slowly sinking into the sea,
The sure knowledge of impending death,
Certain death coming for them all,
Yet even then,
The dignity of life preserved.
"Women and children first!"

If these imperiled souls could face mortality
With such nobility of spirit,
Then how small a thing for us
To file quietly out of the classroom,
Allowing the girls to exit first.

Those courageous men put wives and children into the lifeboats,
She told us in quivering voice,
Knowing there were not enough for all,
Knowing they would never again see their loved ones.
The mighty ship groaned and shifted
In the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic.
The ship's musicians assembled in reverence to their art,
Playing "Nearer, My God to Thee,"
Accompanied by the cries of frightened children,
The exclamations of tearful women,
The panic rising as the ship lurched lower.
"Women and children first!"
Called out to the fleeing passengers
Over and over again.
"Women and children first!"
As the last of the lifeboats were filled.


"Now," our teacher said to her shocked and stunned students,
"Now, we will practice."

"Women and children first!" she declared, guiding us quietly to the door.
"Women and children first!" her words now etched into our souls.
"Women and children first!" she repeated like a prayer,
A holy incantation,
A eulogy.
"Women and children first!"

Our hearts were scalded and beating fast
As we moved quietly toward the lifeboats,
Hoping there was still some room,
Suddenly aware of the weight of life and death,
All of us awakened by this magnificent woman,
This teacher.

Russ Allison Loar


I remember the sea
of your black curls
And the hardy laugh
of encouragement
For our well placed
Metaphors and our
Carefully structured
Line breaks.

You showed us there
Could be soul in our
Words and emotion
Hidden in our stanzas.
That underneath a poem
There could be depth
That rips apart the
Passions of the mind.

You wrote once,
On the bottom of
My paper, in red
Ink that stained the
White paper of my
Crummy poetry
“Keep writing!”
And it touched me.

Daria Approvato


My first grade teacher
hated everything about me:

She hated my awkwardness
- I was all gangling limbs
and graceless inches
above the other kids;

She mocked my feeble
attempts to become invisible
under her terrible stare;

And took offence at the
mop of curly red that
was my hair;

In her presence I stuttered
and stammered, not knowing
how to answer her questions
when she always seemed
to pick on me;

She thought me a plain
freakish waste of space;
I was not meant to be
in her 1A class.

That year was the first, and
worst, experience I had of school.

I knew exactly how
Humpty Dumpty felt when he
foolishly fell off his wall.

But I also learned
that hurtful words are born
out of meanness, and torn
from a bitter heart.

And I have tried in my life,
with odd degrees of success,
to surpass such littleness.
I hope I am a better
person for the effort.

Maddison Ross


Alfie G has a long pretzel in hand,
Called currently a rod
He is mouthing, sucking on a seventh grade pacifier
Bought for two for a nickel at 10:30 recess.
Alfie, somehow is related to a Dodger pitcher
At the time Brooklyn, had three million
And it made us feel like a small town
Concentrated near Flatbush Avenue
Though all that mattered was
Ebbetts Field at McKibben Place
Or the short street called Sterling
Away from the trolley tracks, across from Prospect Park
Where the BMT stopped
And there was a shuttle to Fulton, Bed Stuy..

There’s Alfie sucking away
Winkling and reminding girls about Bananas
Soft core porno of the bar mitzvah boy
Boasting of the hair around his dick
Who went to the balcony of the Avenue D CINEMA
For a long dark Saturday afternoon
With Adele who did not seem to mind
Teenage lovers petting.

It was across from the Church of the Little Flower,
St Teresa of Liseux, a prime place
In the Flatlands, west of Kings highway,

It might have happened in two classes;
With Catholic Ms Doyle
Who said, get the damn thing out
Out of your mouth, and throw it away
Or the busty, very busty, Ms Blustein
Very, in experienced in teaching,
“Please finish what you are doing.”
And the class made her stop teaching
Since she had no nun's ruler to rap knuckles
She showed in class with her large belly and left.

Edward N Halperin


Over the past several months,
I have felt a great need

to sit in my garden
in the cool predawn hours

with a mind wide open
to the teachings

of the ten thousand things
that find me there.

The tree frogs,
with their thin watery voices,

are the first of my teachers
to appear.

As I am slow to learn, they are patient
and try not to overwhelm me.

They implore me to sit quietly
and breathe deliberately.

Cicadas are the next to arise.
Between total silence

and ear-splitting sound,
they demonstrate focus and concentration.

When the night sky turns pearly gray,
the noble moths appear.

Having cultivated the insight of interbeing,
moths point to jasmine, fire spike, porter weed,

and to a woman
who is just beginning to realize

that although we live alone,
we arise as all beings.

Bobbie Townsend


Standing among three students
vying for my attention
he gets up with anger in his eyes
I know the look
I stand between arms outspread
our eyes meet
he darts around me so quick
bam bam bam
happens so quick and yet so slow
grab him by his strong arms
yelling leave to the rest
I feel so bad when
this is how
I have to touch
a child

Leslie Tetrault


He was hardly taller than me
and the first thought that struck me
was a strange sort of sympathy for him.
“Oh, my class will eat him alive,” I thought,
until he sat on a stool in the front of the room –
tanned hands wrapped around a clear mug of tea –
and began to speak, with a voice as rich
as dark chocolate wrapped around silky espresso –
a voice that was, I decided, the color of the galaxy.
And my class did not eat him alive.
We sat silent, stunned into a submissive sort of reverence
for him, this man who seemed so serene, so controlled,
as that galactic voice wrapped around the idea of thought,
the epic of Beowulf, the language of Milton and Chaucer.
His volume never wavered; his words rarely faltered.
The tone remained steady, the inflection subtle, but captivating.
The rumors flitted through the hallways –
he had proposed to his fiancé in a hot air balloon;
he was “carpe diem” personified.
Why was he always absent on the full moon?
(Werewolf speculations abounded.)
But the thing about this teacher, whose initials spelled APE,
whose honeymoon, we heard, was an African safari,
was that he taught me more than I ever thought possible
about poetry, prose, writing and grammar, Chaucer and Milton,
and could keep an entire class entranced on the edge of their desks
simply with the power of softly spoken words.

Michelle Lesniak


Which Teacher was it
that made me sit in the same chair as Brain Buchanan
it was a science class
I was showing him how to turn his own hand purple
or was he showing me?
it was an experiment
the Teacher did not think so

He said if we wanted to be so close
we should sit together
we both shook our heads no
but it was insisted
the giggles were everywhere

our faces the color of the meaty part of my own palm
moments before.

It was uncomfortable;
the chair, our bodies
the way we felt posed and looked upon.

Which Teacher was this?
A name forgotten
a lesson that made no sense

and still the way our young bodies touching
tried not to touch
this, and the rising rank smell of embarrassment
is the thing that stays with me.

Patty Joslyn


did you want something charming

                to listen to at 11 am

while your body digested food and

woeful grades from earlier in the


or was it something more than words on paper

                                to pass Creative Writing?

That class was seeping potential

in their expressive fits of

                Wondrous literature—

Who else could write about arresting

                delinquent bricks

                                                                (like James)

Or indecisive craving for Whoppers


You had deeper intentions


to kindle our creative flame.

You put various colors of poetry and prose into our hands

                                A Godly Vision

                and told us to paint masterpieces

                For the world

I hated poetry before you smiled.

Here’s a secret, your lips said

                                                                And I

fell into a puddle of my former self

                And there it was—


you managed to show me God himself.


So I write poems now

                Amateur but Soulful words

spilled into the paper

written with inky blood from the memory

                                                Of that Class,

                                                Those People

And you,

                 Manifestation of the Poetic Soul,

you have changed the course of my

                Inner happiness.


For as long as I breathe oxygen

And exhale poetry,

                                                Thank you.

Hailey Carone