Sharing the joy of language

In my old black filing cabinet I find a treasure: a few stapled sheets of pink copy paper printed with the unmistakable purple ink of a ditto machine. It is the output of my first poetry teaching gig. I explain in a letter to my parents.

March 1, 1971
I am starting on Friday teaching one hour a week at [my son’s] school. This is what they call a scramble program, where 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders (6-9 yr-olds) are all mixed together to take activities of their own choice, from a list that includes ceramics, folk-dancing, tennis, guitar playing, cookery, woodwork, arts & crafts, etc. The teachers and mothers involved get to teach whatever they are interested in. I am taking a group who are interested in writing poetry. It should be fun, but requires a lot of preparation.

As a university student in New Zealand I had chosen not to make teaching my profession. I’ve not regretted this decision. But over the years I have enjoyed the challenge of teaching short-term writing programs, though even this first one had its moments.

March 29, 1971
My poetry class is coming along quite well, though conditions were a bit poor last week – it was raining, & all the frustrated outdoor games kids crowded into the library too, & my poor kids couldn’t get into the mood.

Cover of a recent CA Poets in the Schools anthology.

At the end of the program I would have made enough copies of the pink sheets for all the children in my group to take home. I still remember the frustration of making ditto masters, using a manual typewriter with the ribbon removed. Any mistake and you had to start over. I still remember the smell of the alcohol solvent that permeated the printed pages. I also remember the children’s joy in the power of language.

Today I’d like to give a shout-out to California Poets in the Schools, a program that not only places poet-teachers in classrooms, but also provides training and resources to help them in their work of “empower[ing] students of all ages throughout California to express their creativity, imagination, and intellectual curiosity through writing, performing and publishing their own poetry.” And I’m in awe of the technologies that support a quality of publication way beyond my pathetic purple dittoes.

3 Responses to “Sharing the joy of language”

  • Kate:

    Oh Maureen…what a sweet wonderful thing you did for these children.

  • Dear Maureen,
    Thank you for your devotion to the craft no matter the evolution of tools…technology has changed so much in the century. From ditto and telex machine to laptop and now the hand-held phone. Maybe it would be fun to do a youth workshop where we start by gathering a quill from the shore, then dip it into ink, and see what might happen?

    Much appreciation for your praise of Calif Poets in the Schools. So much happens with a blank page and a pencil, sparked by imagination.

  • Hi Maureen, we talk about the “Good Old Days” and in many ways they were because things were less complicated and more personal. But for authors and teachers and anyone involved in producing words it was much more complicated and labor intensive. Thank you for a peek at what it was like.

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