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Of Poetry and Monthly Themes.

April is National Poetry Month in the United States, and this being the first time I am truly working as a teacher here (my only previous experience being student teaching at a private Saudi school in Virginia), I am astonished at the number of officially themed holidays or topics that teachers are meant to incorporate into their lessons. By no means an exhaustive list, here are a few that I’ve discovered:

Chinese New Year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 100th Day of School, Black History Month, Presidents’ Day, Women’s History Month, National Poetry Month, Easter, Earth Day, Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Grandparents’ Day, Hispanic Heritage Month, Halloween, Thanksgiving, American indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month, Veterans’ Day, Election Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa...and so on.

I have a sneaking suspicion that some of these celebrations are recognized as themes so that people will not question why they aren’t simply integrated into K-12 History and Social Studies curricula, as they should be. I often wonder whether it is possible for students to have deep and lasting learning with thematic lessons (semi-concentrated experiences, really), rather than integrated and interdisciplinary. My observations indicate otherwise.

One of the reasons that I am glad to be a classroom teacher is for the many opportunities this role allows for interdisciplinary lessons. American education is wonderful in many ways, not least because of all the hardworking teachers who pour everything into their work and students. Nevertheless, the day when films like Hidden Figures, and books such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are no longer revelatory is the day that we will have successfully provided American students with as complete and true a history as actually exists.

I read a poem a day to my students and have done this from the beginning of the school year to familiarize them with poetry. It's a wonderful book containing old poems that we sometimes struggle to understand (we read them again and move on), funny poems that we love, and sad poems that we find beautiful. We also read lots of Dr. Seuess and Shel Silverstein, and because of it, my 7 and 8 year olds have learned to love and appreciate the beauty of words.

I was lucky enough to read the following A. E. Housman poem to them, this month, after which I sang this John Duke arrangement (sung here by Theresa Enright):

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

The children agreed that it was a lovely poem.