I Carry It in My Heart: A Memorized Poem is Part of You Forever

      After reading an NPR article, “A Memorized Poem ‘Lives with You Forever,’ So Choose Carefully,” regarding the U.K.’s Poetry By Heart competition, I started to think about the poems I had to memorize in school and which ones have actually stayed with me even today, years after grade school.  One poem that always resurfaces in my memory is “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall.
     One year in grade school my class was assigned to recite two poems- one poem was chosen by the teacher and the other poem was the individual student’s choice. Waiting for the right one to simply catch my eye or draw me in, I spent a couple of days perusing poetry books from our school library until I came upon “The Ballad of Birmingham”, a poem based on the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The image of the mother searching frantically for her daughter in the rubble and finding her child’s shoe was the part of the poem that really affected me; my heart broke for that mother and what she must have been feeling. This poem really hit a nerve with me, and I felt compelled to share it with the class. I just wanted to ask my classmates Isn’t that awful how this poor mother lost her daughter?  Don’t you feel her sadness and despair as she lifts the shoe out of the rubble? To this day, I remember how that poem made me feel, I remember the need I had within me to share it with others. 
     The author of the article, Camila Domonoske, wrote Jean Sprackland [helped assemble 130 eligible poems to recite for the competition] says that a poem known by heart becomes a part of you, and “it’s something that lives with you forever.” For some, that might stay true even if you lose a few of the words. Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Sprackland!  Though I can’t recite the words by heart any longer, the images in the poem “Ballad of Birmingham” and the sorrow I felt when I first encountered the poem years ago still linger and creep into my mind from time to time.  How wondrous that a poet’s words can strike in such a manner, the way those words can anchor themselves in one’s heart and live there forever.

Mentors Out There in the Worldwide Web

During my time at the Teachers College Writing Institute this past summer, one of my group session leaders was Chris Lehman, who has written books about teaching research writing and helping unmotivated young writers.  He’s an amazing instructor and has excellent strategies for teaching research writing, which has always been challenging for me. One great piece of advice Chris Lehman gave us was to get on Twitter. “It’s one of the best ways to stay connected to writers and an excellent professional development tool!”  he told us.  Though I didn’t instantly sign up for a Twitter account (truth be told all the hash tags overwhelm me), his advice stayed with me.

In an effort to start this new year by finding new ways to stay informed and gain more knowledge as a teacher, I recently signed up for a Twitter account and discovered that Lehman was right!  I came across the pages of many great mentor authors I usually work with in the classroom- Jon Scieszka, Ralph Fletcher, Sharon Creech.  On top of that, I’ve come across the mentors I normally depend on to help me personally as I strive to be a better teacher of writing- Ruth Ayers, Stacey Shubitz, Jim Burke, Chris Lehman, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle.  The list goes on and on!!! Every day I look  forward to reading about what is on the minds of these great people, these great mentors.  I love to read the articles they share and learn more about the projects they work on.  For example, thanks to Twitter, I learned that Ralph Fletcher has created a new blog that focuses on his life as a writer. I immediately added his link to my blog roll and began waiting patiently for the first post, on the edge of my seat and ready to embrace any words of wisdom I could take in and later share with my students on ways to become better at writing together.

A Word to Live By: Aloha

If I had to think of one word to live by as this new year begins, I would choose aloha. I discovered my word when I had to do one of the things I dread doing when January begins- taking down my Christmas decorations. I find Christmas to be one of the most magical times of the year- Christmas music, sparkly lights, Christmas cookies, Christmas movies, Christmas parties… the list goes on and on.  This year was extra special when it came to decorating because my husband and I worked together to decorate our new home for the first time (we moved in last spring), and I loved how our home looked after he and I planned everything and shopped for our decorations together.

My husband had already started taking the outdoor decorations down yesterday.  It was a tough blow to take on the same day I discovered that my Christmas radio stations were no longer airing.  I did bite the bullet, though; I started to take everything down this afternoon. I lovingly put my Christmas tree ornaments away and replaced my Christmas pictures with the usual ones I keep on our side tables and bookcase.

It makes me sad to say goodbye to all the beauty and magic that Christmas brings, but I got to thinking… 1) Goodbye isn’t really the right word, because Christmas will be back 2) I could apply this perspective to other aspects of my life as 2013 begins and start using the word aloha, which means ‘goodbye and hello’, instead…

Aloha to Christmas and all the wonderful things it brings- I can look forward to being surrounded by family and love around a Christmas tree again this year.

Aloha to life as I know it right now.  It will soon be changing as my husband and I prepare to welcome our first child  in a couple of months. This time in our lives will surely bring lots of new adventures, and I will be changed by it no doubt.

I’ll be saying aloha to my students in a couple of months as I go on my maternity leave, but I’ll see my eighth graders again at the end of May when I attend their graduation reception and join my fellow teachers and our students’ families in sending them off to bigger and better things that await them as they continue on to high school.

I hope I’ll be using aloha a lot this year. I’m not a fan of goodbyes, so I’m glad there’s a word to live by that helps me focus on what’s to come when something in life draws to a close.