Book Review: Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach

Title: Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach

Editors: Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner; the book was written in partnership with the Center for Courage and Renewal and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Pub. Date: 2003. Royalties from the book will be used to fund scholarship opportunities for teachers.

Teaching with Fire is a beautiful and passionate book about how teachers use their favorite poems to keep their hearts alive as they rise to the joys and challenges of teaching and witness their students growing, learning, becoming. Each poem from well-loved poets like Langston Hughes, Billy Collins, William Stafford, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov and others, is accompanied by a teacher’s story of how that particular poem helped them reclaim hope, rekindle faith in their profession, and guide them as they kept wonder alive for their students of all ages and from all walks of life.

Teachers of every grade level from all over the country submitted their most cherished poems and described how they turn to them for companionship, solace, wisdom, and to plumb the deeper waters of their vocation. Favorite selections from our most celebrated poets lie folded and faded in the hidden corners of a teacher’s wallet. They are taped to a computer or pinned to a cork board next to a teacher’s desk. Or clipped inside a grading book or written on the cover of a planning binder. The poems mark a special moment in their teaching journey. They use these poems to keep teaching with fire (from Note to Readers).

Some of my earliest memories are of reading and singing with my grandmother, Clementine LaRue, or Nana. Whether it was reciting a funny poem she had written just for me, or singing a lullaby while strumming the ukulele, she had a way of using language that was full of magic and comfort. This is where my love of poetry was born.

When people ask me why I like poetry so much, I of course think of Nana, one of my first teachers. But another reason I turn to poetry is its ability to inspire, illuminate, and to help us understand. Poetry provides concise expression of emotion at moments that are otherwise overwhelming. No wonder so many teachers turn to poetry! What’s harder than being a good teacher? This collection is relevant and powerful today, and is for anyone who wants to grow personally and professionally. Robert Frost once said that “poetry begins as a lump in the throat”. If you think you don’t like poetry I recommend you read this book!

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!