Flashback Friday ~ National Poetry Month

Welcome to the
Childhood Poetry Edition
of Flashback Friday.

Flashback Friday is the brain child of Linda from Mocha With Linda. This is the meme that takes us back in time to the days of our youth. Linda says, This meme’s purpose is to have us take a look back and share about a specific time or event in our lives. It will be fun to see how similar – or different – our experiences have been! This week Linda wants to know:

What poems do you remember from your childhood? Did you have to memorize many poems for school when you were growing up? Did you learn any just for fun? Do you remember which ones they were–and can you still recite them? Did you have a poetry book that you liked to read? Do you enjoy poetry today? Do you prefer rhyming poetry or free verse? Whimsical poetry or epic poems that tell a story? Do you have a favorite poem or poet? Have you ever written any poems?

The first form of poetry I remember is Nursery Rhymes. I loved them!  In fact, I still do.  One of my favorite silly ditties, which I learned in first or second grade, is made up of a combination of Nursery Rhyme and song bits:

My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I
Sing a song of six pence, pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing
Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?
Where oh where can he be?
He’s in the corner with Little Jack Horner
Eating his one-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot crossed buns!

In the third grade we studied a unit on weather and had to learn to spell whether and weather. We were also asked to memorize the following poem:

Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
Whether the weather be warm
Or whether the weather be not,
What ever the weather
We’ll weather the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

That was also the year we learned:

Thirty days has September,
April, June and November.
All the rest have thirty-one;
Except that quite contrary, February,
Which has twenty-eight most of the time,
But in leap year twenty-nine!

From 5th to 7th grade I carried around a volume of Ogden Nash. One day I put it down and it simply disappeared. I don’t know if I left it somewhere or if it grew legs and walked off. You’d think as many times as I read the book I would have something memorized, but I don’t.

In the 7th grade I memorized all of Hiawatha. Every word! I had to recite it aloud as my semester final. Today I remember only the first line, just like most everybody else in the world. I have no idea why memorizing that was supposed to be a vital part of my education.

I still remember one of the first poems I ever wrote — I don’t know why I couldn’t remember one of the better ones instead of something silly, but silly rather fits who I am. [shrug] The poem was written in response to a lot of ribbing. I won a huge purple teddy bear at the fair and lugged it home (three mile walk) right through the middle of town where, apparently, everybody and their Aunt Velma saw me. So:

I resent people saying I’m stupid.
I’m not. I’m really quite smart.
But when it comes to reality
With my teddy bear I won’t part!

I guess, given all that I’ve already written,you won’t be at all surprised to learn that Shel Silverstein is one of my all time favorite poets.  I own all of his books, and have memorized a number of his poems.  One of my favorites became my teaching motto:


Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me–
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

-Shel Silverstein
1932 – 1999

Growing Faith

I love teaching fifth grade. I expecially love the beginning of a new school year. The kids don’t know me yet — well, a few might from a past reading class or special event — but for the most part I am Mystery. They are often unsure of how they should react when I say something outrageous.

Well, when we entered the room this morning I put my lunch and a bottle of Pepsi on the corner of my desk instead of in the cooler — then I forgot about them. A bit later I was reading the Shel Silverstein poem, Peggy Ann McKay. In the poem Peggy Ann is giving outrageous excuses for why she cannot go to school. I do the poem as a drama, dragging my leg, clutching my stomach, and generally moaning and wailing as appropriate.

At the end of the poem Peggy Ann learns that is is Saturday, experiences a miraculous cure, and runs outside to play. As I acted out her rush, I knocked the bottle of Pepsi off my desk. It bounced twice and rolled across the floor stopping against the foot of one of my students.

I scooped the bottle up off the floor, held it out to him and said, “You know, I don’t want to open this. Would you do it for me?” His eyes grew big. He started to reach for the bottle, hesitated; started to reach again, then pushed away, chair and all, and said, “I can’t. I don’t think I’m strong enough.”

I laughed, winked at him and said, “Great answer! I have to be the luckiest fifth grade teacher in this school. I always get the smartest kids!” Then I went to gather the materials to teach math and allowed the students to whisper to each other about being the smartest class.

It isn’t true of course. They come in every size shape and ability level, but there is a reason I have a high success rate with the “problem” students. I respect them. They are not my students to do as I say. I am their teacher and my job is to meet their needs. I set high expectations and I state them clearly, then I make certain the students know I have complete confidence in their ability to meet those standards. I give them my faith and help them grow their own. It works.