A letter to the teachers of English: 71Teaching a poem in the secondary class (1) [Archives:2005/806/Education]

January 10 2005

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,

Teaching a poem is more difficult than teaching a prose passage but the benefits of teaching a poem are great and so we have to teach poems to our learners. With this in mind, a poem has been included in the CECY PB 6. Before we look at how to teach this poem interestingly and effectively to our students, let's discuss something in general about poems and the teaching of poems.

A poem is the gentlest way of expressing one's personal feelings. A poem is the mildest outburst of mighty emotions. Like mercy blesses the giver and the taker, a poem enlivens the writer and the reader. We speak of poetic language, when we are touched by whatever we read, prose or poetry. Poems do have a soothing influence on human beings. We still hear in our inner ears the lullabies of our mothers that put us to sleep, when we were children. We are aware of the folksongs in our countryside that are sung on various occasions for various purposes. As some one said, we live with songs from birth to death.

One can wonder if our students need to learn poems in a foreign language like English; aren't the poems in their mother tongue enough? Enough, but isn't it good to learn the expressions of personal feelings in another language? Doesn't the reading of poems in English make us better human beings with the exposure to poetry in another language that is used worldwide? Arabic, being an ancient language, is rich with poems and folksongs; Arabs have poems and songs in their blood. The variety of dances and songs that are present all over Yemen is a big proof. We, as teachers of English, should make a capital out of this inherent characteristic of Arabic learners of English. We should nurture this love of poetry in our learners and make the best use of it for developing in them a love for poetry in English.

In addition to exposing our learners to the personal feelings of the poets, poems stick in our learners' minds without conscious effort because of their rhythmic pattern of sounds and words. Poems provide our learners with significant things, such as nobility, virtue, mercy, war, nature etc to talk about, either in English or Arabic. Exposing our learners to a range of poems may be a motivation to write poems in English. My observation over these eight years in Yemen is that more students are bold enough to try writing poems, some very good ones, even if their understanding of the poems they learn in the classes is not satisfactory. There is hardly an issue of the Yemen Times Education page without a poem by a Yemeni student; girls often outwit the boys in their contributions. Similarly, the periodic magazines produced in the Departments of English in most of the Universities are full of poems written by the students.

In this favorable atmosphere, teaching a poem should be a pleasant experience to the teachers in schools and colleges. But what spoils the experience in the colleges is the careless selection of poems. Most of the selections are outmoded and archaic; some of them are against the culture of the students. I remember one of my students telling me that her friends in another department raised their eyebrows in surprise and dislike, when they heard her discussing a particular poem taught in her class with her classmates in her leisure. This is just one example; some of the selections are found interfering with their accepted norms in life, creating cultural shock. On the other hand, students at a higher level do enjoy poems in English and attempt to develop their creative abilities writing poems in English. More to come in the next letter.

Yours fraternally,