Thursday, May 14, 2009


I teach high school. I don't write about it often. I shouldn't care what people think, but seriously, I mean seriously, seriously, many writers think that being a high school teacher means that you aren't a serious writer. I even had a professor in MFA school give me a B+ and say (actually, he wrote it to me in an email), "I am sure you are a really good high school teacher." It was patronizing, condescending, and hurtful. I learned to conceal my profession. In my publication bios, I rarely mention being a high school teacher.

AND THAT IS SO RIDICULOUS. I'm a poet and a high school teacher. I can be talented at more than one thing.

The above picture is that of a really big candy bar that was placed on my desk in my classroom last Friday. Look at the tag. It says, "Have a puddle-wonderful day." Here are some of the other things that are written on the gorgeously wrapped chocolate bar:

The mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
The GREAT teacher inspires.
A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops.

A writer is one who gives voice to the voiceless.

They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Three reasons to have a writer for a teacher:
1. endless coffee
2. an excuse for a childish mind
3. pugs

Someday I may wish to teach college. Who knows? But I must admit, (and many writers who have visited and worked with my students would agree) teaching high school can be a rewarding, challenging, and beautiful experience. I am blessed each day to work with the students who fill the seats in room 201.

I teach them how to make poems and how to practice empathy through reading and writing. They leave me chocolate bars decorated with e.e.cummings references. I know life isn't all rainbows and puppy dogs, but for some Saran wrapped cliche reason, these kids make me a better person.

We have the best days so very often. Days we will never forget. So I teach them about enjambment and I talk about my pugs and they remind how tender words can be and how happy I am, on most days, to be alive.

Some days are rough and teaching is not always conducive to my own writing, but for the most part, I can't imagine a more puddle-wonderful way to spend my days. Thank you to all of my students. I won't keep you a secret anymore.


Karen J. Weyant said...

Sometimes, I get that same "reaction" about being a professor at a community college. I had a poet tell me that I couldn't possibly be a poet if I teach at a community college.

Now, I do teach college composition and I would tell my students that reasoning is a logical fallacy. Who says you have to teach at a big university to write poetry?


Britt said...

I think you're the best poet and teacher I know. We're glad it made your day even just a little better. :) It's awesome that you don't want to hide us anymore!

Kristina said...

College teaching is overrated, Jen! Really! Okay, maybe if you teach creative writing it is different. But then you can do that in a high school classroom more easily than in a comp classroom.

And you do have a full-time job, which is something many of us teaching college might never get, even if we are willing to move to the farthest corners of the country. And your students sound amazing!

Jennifer Sullivan said...

Karen-It is weird and completely stupid. I have vowed to not let it bother me anymore.

Brittney-Thank you. You make my day better all of the time. I wish we had more time together. I am so glad that you will at least be taking newspaper next year:)

Kristina-Thanks. I need to hear that sometimes. I start feeling like my students are moving on and I am not. That would be the reality anywhere. Lately, I am humbled by my job and I do feel lucky to have one. I can't wait until you can come see the kids.

Maggie May said...

You are amazing. Teaching high school is seriously one of the hardest things I can imagine doing.