‘Teaching with Heart’

Teaching with Heart, a collection of student poems introduced by teachers, is inspiring, writes John Merrow.

He especially likes Alexis Rotella’s Purple:

In first grade Mrs. Lohr
said my purple teepee
wasn’t realistic enough,
that purple was no color
for a tent,
that purple was a color
for people who died,
that my drawing wasn’t
good enough
to hang with the others.

. . . In second grade Mr. Barta
said draw anything;
he didn’t care what.
I left my paper blank
and when he came around
to my desk
my heart beat like a tom tom.
He touched my head
with his big hand
and in a soft voice said
the snowfall
how clean
and white
and beautiful.

Teaching with Heart

Leatha Fields-Carey, a high school English teacher in Smithfield, North Carolina wrote about the poem: “I first ran across this poem when my enthusiasm for teaching was waning.”

It reminded her “that the most important part of what we do is building and healing human beings, one at a time.”

“So many times students come to us wounded—by parents, by former teachers, by peers, by the system, by life,” she writes.  

After reading the poem, she placed a sign on her desk: “See the snowfall.”

About Joanne


  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    That’s not poetry. That’s prose with a few grammatical mistakes at the end.

    But it’s not bad prose. Not bad at all.

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      So now you’re an expert on what is a poem and what isn’t. Nice of you to condescend to like it, though.

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        “So now you’re an expert on what is a poem and what isn’t.”
        I’d consider myself

        That’s not to say
        that experts can’t disagree.
        Experts disagree about…

        …a lot of things.

        I’d be glad to provide you
        with a list of reasons
        that “Purple” isn’t a poem.
        We can debate
        (and argue)
        (and fight)
        about the relevant standards.

        But just because something’s


        And broken into lines…

        …doesn’t make it poetry.
        Any more than this is.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Mckuen has more white space.

          • Michael E. Lopez says:

            Don’t knock McKuen!

            As popular as he was, McKuen’s poetry isn’t as good as the Purple Prose above. Most of it’s not even close.

            But for all his faults, McKuen occasionally wrote poetry. His stanza’s structure was usually something roughly like this…

            Iambic measured metered line
            Another right upon it
            Abruptly broken off here
            Now extended musing with too many syllables.
            Random unstructured thing here
            Measured line with pulse to close.

  2. Diana Senechal says:

    “Purple” was first published in 1984. It has been quoted/ reprinted in a few books. My guess is that Leathe fields-Carey “introduced” it in the sense of recommending it to the editors (unless she was Alexis Rotella’s teacher).

    I agree with Michael Lopez that it is good prose (although I thought there was irony in the second part and may have been wrong). I thought the two teachers made opposite errors. The second one is more appealing, as far as errors go, but it’s still (in my view) an error.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I agree about the errors entirely. It’s funny that something akin to the “precious little snowflake” syndrome makes an appearance in relation to snowfall.

      That might be irony, of a certain kind — no?

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    “It reminded her “that the most important part of what we do is building and healing human beings, one at a time.” – ”

    Ugh, No. This is just awful pablum. Your job is to teach specific material to students. If, in the process of doing this, you lead them to a better understanding of themselves and the universe – wonderful. If your intention is to “heal” then you’re a cheap shaman amateur psychoanalyst who is just as likely to f-up your students as help them.

    Stop with the god complex already. Just another reason to distrust public education.