Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Lesson Plans and Poetry have in Common

Blue poet smurf with feather and paper
Poet Smurf

To my TESL instructors who tried to teach an old dog new tricks and my colleagues who are forging a career in language teaching.

At first glance, lesson plans and poetry have absolutely nothing in common. They are polar opposites poles apart. While the poem brims with imaginative language and figurative rhetoric, the lesson plan pales in comparison with its dry, dusty and overused jargon and its thoroughly self-conscious and partly neurotic desire for always achieving its own aims.

Yet there are still similarities in their process of creation. A poet uses language to achieve her aims, namely to convey a message or a feeling. She will cut and trim unnecessary words and focus on all that adds to the desired mood; she will chisel away with words and phrases like an obsessed and driven sculptor to give the poem its definite and most beautiful form.

A teacher does exactly the same thing, however, on his own terms. He wants the students to gain particular knowledge about language so that they can reflect on and through language. He will need to get rid of any white noise or distractions to get to the core of his lesson aims. He will need to set the mood for the class by focusing on words that are based on and connected to his given context. With discipline and foresight, he has to limit himself to the essential words and functions that will help him get his message across to the students.

And both, the poet and the teacher at their best will stir souls and create magic. Writing as well as teaching thrives on passion, vocation and inspiration. Language just lies there as receptive letters of fact but both of these professions have to turn it into something living and breathing, something tangible and edible. We say “eat your words” for a reason because both of them will want you to digest language and let it all sink in.

I disagree with one of my teachers and his insistence that language is alive. Language is in fact merely dead meat and nothing but a blueprint. A lesson plan is a piece of paper that depicts and points to an ideal state, which is more often than not in conflict with reality. A good lesson plan may point and lead toward a good class, yet without creativity or spark of the teacher, it can also leave you stranded at a dead-end street.

It is, in fact, all of us that bring life to language, the writer, the reader, the blogger, the speaker, in short, the users and alchemists of language. A lesson plan cannot achieve its own aims no matter how hard it may try. A poem no matter how beautiful needs to touch an inner chord and resonate within to have true effect on a person. On a similar note, language needs its interpreter to survive the onslaughts of time, erosion and oblivion.

It is mainly the steady and relentless work of the teacher-poet who looks past the trite messages to come a little closer to the heart of humanity. A poem as well as a class can be an unforgettable experience. In those instants, the reader-student will be awakened to a world of possibilities and will come in contact with pure magic. It is not the poet, the teacher nor the language that creates this moment of blissful tension; it is the joyous and playful combination of them all.

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