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Stayin’ Alive: Reflecting on Power of Poetry

Mar 29, 2019 2019-03-29

By Stacey James McAdoo

“Poetry didn’t save my life; it saved yours.” This quote has been dancing around in my head for several days now. The poet who spoke these words meant them quite literally. If it had not been for the countless hours he spent developing, drafting, and delivering his words, he very well could have been out in the streets up to no good. Additionally, without the impact of his poetic words, someone else’s life may have been negatively impacted or even lost. This sentiment, though on the negative end of the spectrum, still communicates an important message: poetry is powerful, and it changes and saves lives.

I was in the tenth grade in Mrs. Milloway’s Speech Communication class when poetry first changed my life. We were tasked with finding a poem for an oral interpretation assignment. Upon her suggestion, I checked out Maya Angelou’s book, I Shall Not Be Moved, from the library and fell in love with the poem “Equality.” That was the first time I discovered words in an academic setting that I connected with.

Poetry in the classroom is important because it allows students a creative outlet to express their experiences and thoughts. It is also very empowering because it promotes leadership, self-advocacy and enhances the classroom culture and climate. In addition, the creation of poetry involves the highest level of thinking possible. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, creative thinking is a more complex form of thinking than critical thinking alone. A person can evaluate information without being creative, but in order to think creatively you also have to use some level of evaluation and critical thinking.

Sometimes I use poetry as an assessment of the content we are learning. Other times, it’s used to debrief and discuss current events. Sometimes, it’s simply used as an opportunity to connect and share with one another.

“Good morning dear sweet, beautiful, brilliant students,” is how I begin class each morning. “Did you have a good weekend?” Inevitably some will say yes, and others will say no. Leaning on my broken wooden podium, I will first listen attentively to one of the “no” responses, and then offer words of condolences. Next, of the “yes” responses I’ll have one student share the best thing that happened to them this weekend. The excitement and energy in the room will cause a smile to take over my face. As I scan the room of hands that are held high, I’ll lock eyes with one of the poets—offer up a head nod to let them know I am yielding the floor to them—and hope that they will talk about the slam and tell us all about how poetry saved a life this weekend. If we’re lucky, we might even get to hear a new poem. And if all goes as planned, I just might share one of mine entitled “One Poem At A Time.” (For a live recording, see minutes 32:44–34:45 of Stacey McAdoo - Finding Your Voice: Empowering Educators and Students Through Passion & Poetry.)

It’s been 27 years since poetry stole my heart, and I don’t think she’s giving it back.

Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, is a 16-year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator, and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she lives her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap. She holds a BA in Professional and Technical Writing and a MA in Teaching. Follow Stacey at or @2019ATOY on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Reading/English/Language Arts 21st Century Themes

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