I was not surprised when I read an article in the Daily Mail, with a headline that blared: More than half of primary teachers are unable to name three poets. And while this article represents a study done in the UK, I am sure that the results would be much the same, if anyone bothered to interview Australian primary school teachers. I am sure of this because I am a primary school teacher and each day I often scratch my head and ask, where is the poetry in schools today?
There are some passionate teachers out there, who continue to engage their students with poetry (both classic and contemporary). I know of them, but they are a rare breed. In most cases, when I mention poetry to teachers, the response I get is along the lines of, “I don’t understand it,” or “I am scared of teaching poetry.”
Ipswich is one city making a concerted effort to put poetry back into their local primary schools, through the annual Ipswich Poetry Feast. For the last seven years, the Ipswich City Council has allocated funding for poets to visit schools between May and July to run a series of workshops as well as funding for a series of online workshops. I have been fortunate to have been a workshop poet for the last four years and it is always a thrill to see young people’s faces light up with poetry. This sort of committment will most definitely raise the profile of poetry in schools and may even show many of the teachers that it’s not that hard to engage young people through poetry.
Sea Things is another project currently underway that aims to engage with local communities and schools to have people imagine our sea history through new works that can be shared locally, nationally and internationally through use of print, audio, film and other digital media.
These projects are brilliant, but poetry needs to be reinstalled on the ground floor of teaching… it needs to be part of the everyday, teaching and learning process. As former UK children’s laureate, Michael Rosen says, it needs to be “on the walls, in assemblies, in corners and in books.
I remember distinctly my year 3/4 primary school teachers reading Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson and on a more local front Judith Wright. I remember hearing poems read just for the pure enjoyment of it. For this I am forever thankful. These poems served me well…
I would also love to hear about your first school-aged poetry memories. The poems that served you well.
And if you are in the business of education or know someone that is, ask yourself or them, where is the poetry in schools today? If we don’t ask, it may never come back.