In Australia a college is not somewhere students go after high school as it is in the United States – the term refers to any school. Thus, Radford College in the Canberra suburb of Bruce (insert Monty Python Australia sketch here) is a K - 12 campus.
This school is the first really foreign school that Sara and I have worked in. When we work overseas we have always been in international schools – places where ex-pats, and locals looking to send their kids to US universities, send their kids in countries where the native language is not English. This time we were in an honest to goodness foreign school – part of the local system. Thanks to our friend Dan Ferri – these Aussies took a chance on a couple of poets from Cleveland Ohio.
You can see they gave us a manageable but busy schedule. As happens quite often our dance card filled up as teachers began talking about our visits into their classrooms and those who were sitting on the fence with a “wait and see” attitude decided they wanted to get in on some of this poetry action. So our schedule became loaded with crisscrossed lines and penciled in times as it evolved during our stay.
Like I said this is fairly common and understandable. Teachers are busy people and have a hard enough time getting to all their lessons and curriculum objectives and sometimes don’t feel there is time for poetry in their schedule. What Sara and I offer is a way that teachers can integrate poetry as a tool in their classroom – so while the finished product may be some sort of verse it still pushes their classroom goals forward and might I add, at a quicker pace than a five paragraph essay, a report, diorama, book report or any other of the myriad text types used for assessment. Ask the teachers at Radford about the narratives we wrote about the water cycle or the definition poems on democracy and you’ll find some recent converts to poetry as a practical classroom addition.
The students and teachers at Radford were engaged and enthusiastic, we visited classrooms of kids from third through 12th grade and only went to the wrong building one time during our week long residency. Thankfully a breathless fifth grader found us and led us back to the right classroom. It is a whiplash inducing experience to go from a group of eight year olds writing about the toys in their bathtub to a class of 18 year old young men and women studying Plath and Hughes one right after the other but it’s also what makes our job so much fun.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and met some really dedicated professionals; including a 7th grade science teacher who was carting around a pair of orphaned possums in her bag. So thanks to Peggy, Claire, Dylan, Therese, Dan and all the other folks we met during our stay. In the words of the school chaplain, “God bless you mob!”