I got very excited a couple days ago when I saw this brand new book arrive in my mailbox. It’s called Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach (S.M. Intrator and M. Scribner, editors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014).
I had known it would be coming for quite a while–about a year and a half ago, I submitted a contribution to the editors because I was inspired by the mission of the book, which is to pair poetry with real teacher anecdotes, reflecting important ideas about the life and work of teachers. I was lucky enough to become a contributor. (In fact, my anecdote is the one that closes the collection–you’ll have to turn to page 198 to find it!)
As I paged through Teaching with Heart, I was touched by the power of the voices gathered here. There are contributors with big names that many teachers will recognize–Parker J. Palmer, Taylor Mali, and Sarah Brown Wessling. But there are also stories from nearly a hundred different teachers from across the country woven into this collection, which is as rich with a variety of emotions and perspectives as is the act of teaching itself. Paired with poetry that has stood the test of time, the reflections of these educators remind me of the sheer volume of good people–strong people–that share this profession. In an era where teachers are sometimes devalued by society, it is important to let these strong voices anchor us, to help us refuse to be swept away by a current of negativity. This book does that. It’s an anchor, and a beautiful one at that.
The best way, I think, to read a book like this is in small doses, here and there, when inspiration is needed; and then reading a little, a lot, chronological, or not. I’m going to share my copy of Teaching with Heart with my department colleagues. The book will live in our office, to be opened and contemplated whenever it’s needed. I’ll start you off here, with a small selection from my own anecdote about the poem “The Real Work” by Wendell Berry. May it inspire you to head over to Amazon and check out the other voices in this fiery, courageous compilation.
“The Real Work” brings with it a simple, ringing truth that echoes my experience: hardship inspires innovation, honesty, and a desire to persevere enough to fight through. It is when we reach a dead end that multitudes of previously unseen paths open up to meet us. Thinking back on my own teaching paths, I realize that I am my career’s cartographer, drafting a map rich with color and experience.
The poem also makes me think of my students, many who shoulder unthinkable burdens, yet still manage to employ their minds and spirit in the journey of learning. Students show bravery every time they put their own voice to a page, despite the uncertainty that can come from all directions without and within.
So much of teaching is doing the work of standing back up—knowing with profound certainty that our “baffled minds” are meant to do this “real work” of journeying together, to teach our students and ourselves that the struggles we overcome help strengthen the voice of our song.
Consider picking up a copy for your favorite teacher friend, mentor, or mentee. Royalties from Teaching with Heart support the Center for Courage & Renewal, a resource network dedicated to renewing and sustaining those in the career areas of education, health care, ministry, and other positions that positively impact communities.