Poetry and a Giveaway!

What does poetry look like in your classroom or life? (Want to just learn about the giveaway? Click!)

I know that before I became a teacher, it was pretty nonexistent. Many of the singers I listened to wrote very poetic lyrics, at least in my opinion. I even had a pair of jeans on which I wrote all of my favorite lyrics. Tori Amos and Ani Difranco were my only poets outside of school assignments.

When I think about high school and college, I cannot remember much instruction in poetry at all. I studied William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience in my LIT2000 course in college and I sincerely cannot remember a single poem I read in a high school classroom.

I started teaching in January of 2012. I searched through my old files and found this one assignment I must have used at my first teaching assignment.

12 sentence portrait poem

Other things I have used since starting teaching:

  • Literature Analysis essay discussing why Ray Bradbury chose Dover Beach to integrate into Fahrenheit 451.
  • A “March Madness” style poetry tournament, 32 poems. Two poems a day for….a lot of days. Students would annotate, talk, vote daily and we would end in an essay about WHY the poem won the tournament.
  • A failed attempt at using a poem everyday to show some kind of skill or strategy…this lasted a whole six days because I had not planned this out well enough!

And now!

This year, through Twitter, I came across Scott Bayer (@lyricalswordz) and Melissa Smith (@MelAlterSmith) 

(for other names in the post, I have linked blogs and Twitter accounts where I can. Happy clicking!)

Scott was sharing his work with students based on Clint Smith’s collection Counting Descent. You can find a thread of this work here, or search for #ClassWithClint on twitter!

Around the same time, I clued in to Melissa Smith’s work using living poets in the classroom. Just check the hashtag #TeachLivingPoets to see the amazing work teachers are doing, many inspired by Melissa.

Soo…I started thinking a lot about how I teach poetry in my classroom and my own life as a poetry reader. I bought Counting Descent and started a deep dive into poetry. I fell in love with many poets and emptied my book budget into collections for my classroom.

I was asked to help run a part of the Living Black History Museum our school’s Ebony Society put on. I was challenged to curate poetry written by Black and African-American poets. I realized that curation was a skill I wanted my students to engage with as well, because it was NOT easy to choose poems. I ended with…more than 40 pages of poems and a youtube playlist of about 15 videos. I could have kept going.

Around the same time, I was working with our media specialist to think of ideas for National Poetry Month. Too often our students see poetry as a dead art, something they have to study to pass a test…not something that is living and inside the,

So, I curated a group of 20 poems by living poets to be featured in our hallways. Inspired by educators  I was learning from in the Project LIT Community, like Julia Torres and Jarred Amato , I explicitly curated poems from poets of colors, queer poets, poets who represent the diversity of human experience in a way that poetry anthologies in our textbooks do not. I also solicited donations to purchase more texts for my classroom shelves! See some of those here. 


The works of Kasey Jueds, Leila Chatti, Reginald Harris, Angel Nafis, Rudy Francisco, Daniel Blokh, Denice Frohman, Maggie Smith, Paige Lewis, Safia Elhillo, Clint Smith, Franny Choi, Hanif Abdurraqib, Aracelis Girmay, Rupi Kaur, Nate Marshall, Elizabeth Acevedo, Kaveh Akbar, Eve Ewing, and Janet McNally were plastered all over the school. We had HUGE posters hanging in a central area, and smaller posters laminated and hung throughout the buildings on campus. There are more than 2,400 students on campus daily, so the exposure to poetry alone made me feel that this was worth doing.

With the help of SGA (student government association) I ran a month long poetry tournament, complete with a modified bracket, an open-mic, a poetry activity bingo (with prizes) and lesson ideas for teachers.

We used Twitter to conduct voting, next year we will find another route…our kiddos are not big on Twitter here!

winners of the Bingo Contest! (see the activities here: http://bit.ly/fpcreadsbingo)

I think the month was a success and intend to do this again next year!

A PoemSnap (inspired by #BookSnaps) by one of the winners:

Joel Garza used my curated collection at his school too!


And, Kristin Runyon was killing it with a curated paired text set on wakelet!

How I used all of this work in class!

My goal was to have students curate their own collection of poetry, centered around some kind of connection (that they decide), with a diverse pool of poets. They also annotated all of the poems and wrote original poems. Here were my instructions http://bit.ly/poemprojecthutsell(which definitely need some tweaking!)

I do not have great pictures of annotations (yet) but here are a few pdfs of student work (which have been shared with permission or made anonymous)

Curated Collections

created on Canva.com (hehe I love alliteration)

Student Example 1  – Nature

Student Example 2- Memory

Student Example 3 – Sexual Violence (definitely trigger warning)

Student Example 4 – Catastrophe

Original Student Poems

(Annotation pictures coming if I can find them!)

What’s next?

I ran a successful DonorsChoose project this summer and was able to earn a class set of Counting Descent by Clint Smith, as well as copies of texts by Hanif Abdurraqib, Sarah Kay, Eve L. Ewing, Tracy K. Smith, Nicole Sealey, Solmaz Sharif, Chen Chen, Claudia Rankine, Rudy Francisco, Layli Long Soldier, and Sabrina Benaim to supplement my classroom collection. I plan on reading Counting Descent as a whole class text and then allow students to form book clubs around poetry collections they choose. I will also be workshopping with poetry a lot this year…I am reading The Write Thing by Kwame Alexander and Poems are Teachers by Amy  VanDerwater

If you are a teacher and would like any of my lesson resources mentioned, I will be posting more soon!

How this year of poetry has changed me?

After Parkland, I messaged a brand new column for The Paris Review called PoetryRX. Claire Schwartz prescribed me Elegy by Aracelis Girmay. This poem has given me so much strength when I feel like I am weary with the world, the work, the job. Her post is something I return to, frequently. Click to read and you should think about submitting your questions too. Poetry is good for your heart.

I now exchange beautiful works with my dear friend Dulce-Marie Flecha (a post coming on all I have learned from her soon!) daily. This challenges me to find poems to surprise and delight daily. It brings me so much joy to share and to receive exquisite words of prose in return.

As you just read above, my students will be reading (and writing) a lot more poetry this year and for the foreseeable future.

And maybe…one day I will share my own.

What you really came here to read about: The Giveaway

The Giveaway

I want to encourage others to read lots of poems and think about about the contributions of poets alive RIGHT NOW.

I (fortuitously for you) accidentally ordered a second copy of My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz (her twitter + link to book) and I would like to share her poetry with you.

To reach both goals, I am asking you to read through the poems of living poets and finding a favorite poem you want to share. When you find one, keep reading and enter the giveaway.

Legally, to be entered into the giveaway you must reside in the United States and just fill out the Google Form.

BUT for double entries and extra awesomeness, submit a favorite poem by a living poet; a link or a file will be great! I will enter names into a randomizer and contact the winner! Respond within 48 hours and it is yours. I will close the form on August 5h.


Good luck and thank you for sharing your most loved poems with me.

This could be yours!

Text Set for Ghost Boys

If you haven’t read Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ghost Boys yet, you are missing out on a book that will stay with you for a long time.

It’s also one of the Project Lit Book Club choices for 2018-19.

I don’t know yet if I will have the opportunity to teach with this novel next year. But, after reading it I remembered that I had written about a character that appears in the book, Emmett Till. I went back to one of my old saved notes. All it said was “so many poems about Emmett Till!” The violence and injustice of Emmett Till’s story, cut short by white supremacy and evil men and women, has rippled through American culture into our music, poetry, literature…too often we see faces and stories like his.

Ghost Boys is no exception. When the boy with the round hat was introduced, I was immediately in tears. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Here is the goodreads description, if you haven’t heard about it yet.

So, here is the first installment of curated text sets. I anticipate adding more to this as I read more and I haven’t yet added primary sources or writings from closer to the time of the tragedy.

bit.ly/ghostboystextset feel free to make a copy of your own.

Link to purchase book

Please comment with any feedback! I hope this helps as you plan to introduce students to the legacy of Emmett Till and Ghost Boys.

Word(s) of the Day

I am going to collect words of the day for today, June 27th 2018 and see what happens.

Teach Write #DWhabit: surface
@MerriamWebster: bedizen
dictionary.com:  farouche
@oxfordwords: zoomorphic
@oed : perfay
@VocabularyCom : collaborate
wordsmith.org @awad : emolument
wiktionary: latter-day


When we work through vocabulary words in class, I give students a 5 finger scale to rate their word knowledge before we start.

  1. I have never seen this word!
  2. I have seen this word, but I do not know what it means.
  3. I could probably use this word in a sentence correctly, but I cannot explain what it means.
  4. I can explain what it means, but I am not 100% sure.
  5. I could teach someone else about this word.

So, for today’s words:

  1. perfay
  2. bedizen, farouche
  3. zoomorphic, emolument
  4. latter-day
  5. collaborate, surface

I will even admit that bedizen tripped me up when I internally pronounced it (I would have said BEH-duh-zin with a schwa for all the vowels, but it is bih-DYE-zun!) Bedizen means “to dress or adorn gaudily” and if I were a student I would have to look up “gaudily” as well. When I was on the linked definition, I noticed there was link to a definition for kids which led me to Merriam Webster’s WordCentral, a dictionary for kids. It even has its own word of the day! Today’s was defiant. I know the definition of this well…I am writing this post while chasing around a defiant 3.5 year old. The WordCentral site has an outdated aesthetic, but it has word games and a rhyming dictionary. I think this could be a good site for students to bookmark!

Farouche means both WILD and SHY or LACKING SOCIAL GRACES which at first seems like a contradiction, until I thought of WILD in the context of the etymology, originally Latin foras meaning “out of doors”

The Old French adjective farocheforasche derives from the Late Latin forāsticus “belonging outside or out of doors” (i.e., not fit to be inside), a derivative of the adverb and prepositionforās (also forīs“(to the) outside, abroad.” A similar semantic development can be seen in savagefrom Middle French salvagesauvagefrom Medieval Latin salvāticus (Latin silvāticus“pertaining to the woods.” (dictionary.com)


Whoa, this is cool! I LOVED my linguistics class in college, and have fantasized about time traveling back to high school so I could do all my homework and go to college for linguistics, but instead I will nerd out with my students (and you!) about words and the way words develop.  Savage used to be synonymous with being wild or coming from the woods (Hey John the Savage, what’s up?) but for my students this year, it is more related to ruthless, badass, and fierce. Savage is used almost exclusively with positive connotation. Positive may not be the right word here, maybe more like…appreciative? If a student insults another, an observer saying, “Bro, that was savage,” is acknowledging the power of the insult in an almost admiring way. Now, I could be way off base here, but that is my experience this year at least. Who knows what new word developments I will learn about from next year’s students?

perfay (no not pronounced close to parfait) is archaic and was used in poetry in the 1800s, but is not in use anymore. It is pronounced (if I am reading the phonetic guide correctly) puh-fay with the stress on the second syllable.

 @OED Word of the day: perfay, int. By my faith; truly; indeed, certainly
@OED Word of the day: perfay, int. By my faith; truly; indeed, certainly

I will resist the temptation to start using this interjection (though I may not be able to control myself!

Zoomorphic means having or representing animal forms or gods of animal form. This would be a neat word to practice root/prefix/suffix knowledge. I would maybe use some of this list from thefreedictionary.com and see if students could guess at correct meanings using their knowledge of affixes! 

I only know the word “emolument” because of the news! Wordsmith.org has this as a note for the word, “Earlier an emolument was a miller’s fee for grinding corn. Today, emolument is what you get for the daily grind.”
Latter-day is inextricably associated with the Mormon Church in my head. Though it means “modern; recent” I probably would not think to use it as an everyday adjective.

Collaborate is one of those words that is used a lot, but rarely seen in practice effectively! I have to explain ad nauseam that collaborate means to WORK TOGETHER on something, not just work next to each other on the same product. Maybe if I break down the word using its etymology, students (and colleagues) will understand collaboration more deeply. If you haven’t used vocabulary.com with students yet, you should. When you look up a word, you get so much useful information!

screenshot from vocabulary.com page for "collaborate"
screenshot from vocabulary.com page for “collaborate”

And lastly, the @TeachWriteEDU word for the #DWHabit (Daily Writing Habit) is “surface” and I found this word to shift in my brain as I wrote this post. It was the first word I gathered today and my first thought was “oh, simple word. I can write about how every surface of my house is covered in crap.” And, while this is still true, I think I want to reflect on how I teach and learn about new words. Too often the knowledge my students and I attain about new words is just a surface definition. This helps my students only when they see the same exact word in the same exact context. I think it will be more beneficial for my students to study less words, but go more in depth for each word. The word surface alone could lead them to many more words. Just look at this screenshot from the Google definition!

screenshot from google definition of "surface"


Thank you for reading my rambling collection of words about words.

Trying to use words in context:

On the surface, latter-day educators collaborate often.
How many books of zoomorphic characters on your shelf?
Homecoming week? Halls contain teens bedizened for Tacky Tuesday.
Teachers demand emolument increase from their leaders, will it happen?
A farouche student, in the back; have you talked to them today? You should.
Dig below the surface. This should be constant work. Do not stop at the surface of a text, a lesson, a student. Keep learning, perfay!

ADHD, Today.

Today is one of those days that epitomizes my ADHD.

After two days at Disney with a three year old in 100 degree + heat, I decided a relaxing day would be best.


Yeah, right.

I was up at 6 AM to drive almost an hour to a doctor’s appointment. I injured my wrist (during the reading of To Kill a Mockingbird to my ninth graders) in 2016 and it magically resolved a few months after. Of course, the pain came back months later and I could not get into the doctor until now.

The office sent me a new patient packet (which I forgot) so when I showed up at 8 AM, without my insurance card, I had to frantically start and finish the paperwork.

The appointment went well—the doctor was excellent—and we decided on surgery. I am slightly terrified of surgery* so my impulsive brain accidentally scheduled surgery for the wrong dates and have to fix that…tomorrow.

Then I went to school to organize my classroom and plan for summer school. And instead of getting either of those done, I left with a longer to-do list than I went in with.

List I Entered With
  • organize SOME of the books in the classroom
  • plan for the first few days of summer school
List I left With
  • paint bookshelves
  • find more students to invite for summer school
  • prioritize standards before planning
  • weed my classroom library before organizing
  • determine daily routine for summer school

I then lost track of time (and my keys!) and had to rush to my massage appointment I made last night before falling asleep. It was wonderful and relaxing, but I still was running through a long mental to-do list instead of fully enjoying the moment.

I rushed home to start my first class with Teach Write online. That is where I learned about Slice of Life and I decided to sit and write a short slice of my day today. During our class we were asked to write down 5 things we believe about writing. The first word I wrote down was “daunting” because I find that when I write with my teacher hat on, I anticipate sharing. The act of sharing my writing causes a lot of anxiety for me, so instead of pushing through…I give up. So, here’s to not giving up today.

My ADHD diagnosis* is of the hyperactive impulsive type. I am not inattentive; I pay attention to too many things at once. I feel like today is a perfect example of my disorder. I drove 100 miles today and accomplished…well not much. I started a class, began a medical process, finished one massage, forgot my grocery list…and started (and completed!) this post. I am staring down the hall into a room full of books to be read and papers to be organized and hoping I can find the time this summer to accomplish just a few more things on my list.

And for a visual representation of how my brain feels today:








*more posts on these to come!

becoming a teacher, pt 2

So, there I was at a tiny rural school in the biggest city in the continental US (in area, not population) and with no experience! I had done my student teaching in St. Johns County in an affluent area with advanced 8th graders. I was hoping some of my experience from student teaching would help me as I took over my first classroom.


Reader, it did not.


In hindsight, my year at “Middle-Senior High” was just fine. There were normal ups and downs for a first year of teaching. But, in the moment…I felt like a failure at all times.

Relevant backstory: The teaching position I was taking was vacated more than 5 weeks previous to my hiring. There had been a slew of substitute teachers in and out of the class.

I cannot walk you through my first day with any clarity, but I can give you some high and low points of my time there. I started teaching at the end of January 2012 and remained at MSH until February of 2013.

For the remained of the 2011-12 school year, I taught English I Honors and English II.

In my first week, I witnessed two horrible fights…all involving my students. In the more brutal of the two, one boy broke his hand on the face of another boy on the way to the lunchroom. (Yes, I had to walk high school students to lunch!) In the other fight,  I had to jump over a pair of fighting girls to get to the room across the hall to find the emergency button for security. No one had shown me where mine was, or who to call if something like this happened.

My classroom was located in the oldest building on campus (built in 1949) and cockroaches were frequent visitors in the classroom. My colleagues were congenial, but collaboration was pretty nonexistent.

The teacher lunch room was the stereotypical example of why you should avoid the teacher’s lounge as a young teacher.

One class period had 22 students (which seemed great on paper!) with 15 IEPS and 18 of the 22 students were boys. I had a paraprofessional push in to my room during this class period, but after I corrected her about FCAT testing information, she never returned.

Each day was a struggle for me. I never felt like I was doing enough for the kids as a person or a teacher. I had very strong ideals about reading and writing and I was unable to translate any of that into practice. When I was hired it was February and only a few days from “Testing Season” (cue dramatic music) and the season never ended! Every meeting was centered around scores and targets and standards. I did not feel like I fit. I did what I could to stay on top of the curriculum map, but once my classroom door was shut I would do what I thought was best for the kids.

At the end of the school year, I remember thinking that I had wasted all that time in college, because I was never going to be a successful teacher. I even started looking for other jobs. I went back to MSH in the fall though, flattered by the teaching schedule laid in front of me: English 2, Yearbook, and AP Lang.

I had 40 students in each AP Lang section (if you passed FCAT in 10th grade, you took AP. There was no Honors option) and 40 in yearbook class. I realized that I was a sucker for agreeing to be a yearbook adviser while teaching an AP course and still in my first year of teaching!

I was also only two months from my wedding when the school year began! It was a whirlwind.

I honestly cannot remember much of the content of my lessons from 2012, but I do remember having an evaluation from my principal where she stopped me and took over multiple times, and then left only a note saying “your date was wrong on your board 🙁 ” when she left. I remember having the beginning of a panic attack the next time I heard her keys clanking in the hallway. I remember the joy of finally breaking through with a few of my 11th grade girls who were so determined not to like my class, or me. I remember the To Kill A Mockingbird rap my students produced to the tune of “Boys in the Hood.” I remember the tearful goodbyes on my last day at MSH after telling my students I was leaving to go teach ‘back home’.

I remember failing, over and over. It took five years for me to look back and see that my time at MSH was not the horrible year I thought it was. My time there taught me so much more than I knew at the time.  I never felt like I made a difference in the lives of those students, but I was wrong.

I met some wonderful students, who are now young adults making their way into the world. One student I taught in the Honors course died by suicide a few years after I left the school. He used to high five me in the hallway and surreptitiously slip a folded note into my hand. The note was always a new poem of his. He was a musician and a writer. The world would be brighter with him in it. A student I taught in English II was in a tragic car wreck the year after I left Baldwin. He was a goofball. No matter what kind of day I was having, he would try to make me smile. I visited him while he was in a coma after the wreck. I will never forget the outpouring of love and support I saw from that community for him.  These two boys changed my heart forever and left us too soon. I miss them.

I recently went to the wedding of two of my students, who credited my sly seat change in 11th grade for the start of their relationship. I stay in touch with many of my former students. Over winter break this year, I went through all the notes the kids had left me at the end of the 2011-12 school year, and letters and pictures they gave me on my last day at MSH in February of 2013. As I found their letters I would send a quick note on Facebook, “Hey, look what I found! Happy New Year!” The responses were joyous and life-affirming. I expected a few responses and mostly radio silence. Instead, I was reminded that caring about your students can and will make a bigger impact than you can ever predict. I got to hear about babies, marriages, jobs, degrees. One student is playing college football as a senior but plans on pursuing his Masters and starting a nonprofit!

A few of the ones that moved me to tears…





Why did I leave MSH? Well, I got a phone call in the middle of the night from an educator who I deeply admire and respect. Her message, “Put in your application, a position is opening! Hurry!” and the rest, as they say…

will be in my next post.

becoming a teacher, pt 1

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Okay, just kidding! In December of 2012, in Jacksonville, FL… I graduated from the University of North Florida with my degree in Secondary Education for English, my teaching certificate for English, and an ESOL endorsement.

I promptly got engaged, planned my wedding in the two weeks of Winter Break, and then started my search for a job. We all know your first teaching job is perfect and you stay in it until you retire so I was very sure I was going to land the perfect job.

I had an interview for a part-time position at a school in Jacksonville Beach in my first week of looking. The interview went fine, as far as I can remember. If I am being honest, all I remember is how humid and sticky it was outside, how hard it was to find parking, and how nervous I was waiting to be interviewed after I had just been asked for my hall pass…I did not get the job. They called to tell me that I interviewed well, but they needed a teacher with more experience. Slightly dejected, but trying to put a positive spin on it (I mean, I really would rather have a full time position right?! And the traffic there is pretty rough…) I continued my search for the holy gra…a new job.

Continue reading “becoming a teacher, pt 1”


Hello! Thank you for visiting my site, which will eventually hold my ramblings on teaching!
Forthcoming posts:
  • book reviews of YA texts
  • reflections on success and failures in my classroom
  • highlighting the work of other educators
  • random musings
  • how I cope with ADHD and my career
I look forward to sharing the strange workings of my brain with you!