Old School Poetry to Share with Children

I have been told  am “old school.” Seriously, I have been told that in the middle of a day of substitute teaching for someone I knew well who had asked me to take her class for several days in a row. It was a tough time. The class was hard to corral; behavior problems abounded. There was even a need to call in the principal to address one student who had physically harmed another with intentional pinching. It was not good, and I believe one of the last days I ever served as a substitute.

But, in the process of that day, the paraeducator had told me I was “old school.”  Although it hurt a little bit, she was right. I am.  I expect children to behave, follow rules, and have consequences if the rules cannot be upheld.  This is not to say I don’t give students chances, reminders, and redirection. I do and I have in the past. I know I did with this particular class.

Anyway, in my substitute bag, I always had some poetry to share with the class I was called in to teach. No, it was not always used. I tried very hard to stick to the plans the teacher had left with the fidelity the staff knew I brought.  But, occasionally, I would arrive to find loosely constructed plans or, heaven forbid, no plans at all. The books in my sub-bag made me feel confident I had something to fall back on if the latter became true.

My mom taught third grade for over thirty years. Luckily, I acquired many of the books from her classroom library. Some of these are authors that newer teachers might not be familiar with – but, they should be, in my opinion.

Most are still familiar with Shel Silverstein of the famed Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree. But, as talented as Mr. Silverstein was, his poems were not what I shared the most.


Instead, I turned to Jack Prelutsky who had a series of holiday themed poem books in the early 80’s. There seems to always be a holiday looming ahead of students during the school year that is often anticipated with great enthusiasm.  So, being that the books were small (they fit in my sub bag) and the poems were short (saving time during a busy school day), I often turned to one to bridge a transition or fill in a gap. I used these books often with my writer’s circle students as well.


And, then, one of my most often read poems was by Bruce Lansky, called Mrs. Stein, which was, in fact a poem about a substitute teacher that is dreaded by the students. It is funny and might be partially true, always bringing a nervous laugh from the class.


The third old school poet I used in my days of subbing and leading writer’s circle was a book called The Butterfly Jar by Jeff Moss. Three poems I still have marked in this book are called, “Bugs”, “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon,” and “The Tree.”

Poetry can provide humor, stimulate critical thinking, and be a creative outlet for students caught in the drudgery of a day with a substitute teacher. It was and still would be one of my favorite things to teach elementary aged students!

So, if you are a young educator and unfamiliar with the poetry of Bruce Lansky, Jeff Moss, or Jack Prelutsky. I would highly recommend you check them out. You never know when you need a good poem to set the tone!

Happy Poetry Friday!  This week the blog sharing forum is hosted by Check it Out! For more poems or book recommendations, please go to their blog and check it out! Thanks for hosting!

12 thoughts

  1. I wish we had you on our substitute teacher list! Your post reminds us to balance what’s “old” (I couldn’t think of a better term) and what’s new. We don’t have to reject either, but can integrate both into our repertoires. I think that this post reminds us that there are “oldies but goodies!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed your post. I find nothing wrong in being “old school” — especially when it involves sharing fun poetry with students and expecting them to behave in class. Substitute teaching is not for the faint of heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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