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Dedicated to Teachers


ON THE PODCAST: Writing as Healing with Stacey Joy

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Welcome to Writing as Healing, a Heinemann podcast series focused on writing as a tool to increase healing in students and educators. We know that academic learning doesn’t happen without social and emotional support, and writing, as a key literacy, is uniquely positioned in every classroom to do both.

This week Liz is joined by Stacey Joy, a self-published poet and California 5th grade teacher, to talk about composing poetry on the freeway, writing the golden shovel, and mentoring young teachers out of isolation and into self. Their conversation begins with Stacey’s reflection on just how much writing teachers do on a daily basis.


 


Below is a full transcript of the episode:

Stacey Joy:

Well, I can honestly say my favorite genre of writing is poetry. If I could just spend my days writing poetry and living in a poetic world, it would just be the ideal life. But I do, as a teacher, have to write lesson plans and I write curriculum. So I realize that that's also a form of writing. And oftentimes teachers don't give themselves credit as writers of curriculum and writers of lesson plans. But when you really think about what goes into crafting a lesson or crafting a unit plan for your students, there's a ton of research and work that goes into that, and it all happens on the page. So that is another form of writing that I love. I'm very creative, so I like to find new ways to interest my students. I look for exciting new apps to play and use in the classroom.

I'm really into technology. But to go back to my passion, it's definitely poetry. And oftentimes I find myself on the road in traffic because, of course, I live in Los Angeles so there's traffic. A wild idea will come to me about something I should write like a poem or even just a title. And because I'm stuck in traffic, I can't write. So I'll open up my notes app and I'll dictate my thoughts into my notes, and then I go home and I look it over and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, here's a poem." So a lot of times that's where some of my writing happens on the freeway.

Liz Prather:

What a great process. That's a great process. Yeah. So then do you transcribe those poems or is it just there as kind of a compendium of language, or how does that work?

Stacey:

So I think for the most part, I will speak it in almost like in lines. So I'm not like stream of consciousness discussion, but I'll say, for example, if I'm thinking about the sunrise, I'll say, "Oh, the sun is a beautiful orange this morning." And then I'll pause and then I'll go, "Next line. To reach out and touch it would be phenomenal." And I'm just talking. And so by the time I finish and I look at it, I'm like, "There's maybe a haiku or possibly a cinquain," or whatever it is, I can work with it, but it's not stream of consciousness. It's more formatted in the way that a poem would be formatted if I were actually writing.

Liz:

What's your favorite kind of poetry to write? Does the poem pick its own form or does the subject matter dictate that? I'm always interested when I talk to poets how they decide on that.

Stacey:

That's a great question. I believe that I have evolved from being more free verse to being more of a form poem type person. Have you heard of a Golden Shovel?

Liz:

No. It's a form?

Stacey:

Yes. So let me share this.

Liz:

What is a golden shovel?

Stacey:

And because it's called a golden shovel, you're like, "What could that be?" Right?

Liz:

Yeah.

Stacey:

So if you know the poet Nikki Grimes, she has a book of, an entire book of golden shovel poems, and it's called One Last Word. So what you do is you take one line from any source. So it could be a news article, it could be a podcast statement. You take one line, you use that one line as the ending words for each line of your poem. For example, let's say the line I chose was "Teachers are leaving the profession in great numbers." So first word teaching are leaving, I just go down my page. Teachers are leaving the profession in great numbers. Now my poem has to end, the first line has to end with teaching. The next one will end with the word are.

Liz:

Wow.

Stacey:

The next one-

Liz:

But the constraints actually aid in the creativity. That actually gives you a frame to fill.

Stacey:

Right.

Liz:

Do you have some of your poetry with you that you could share?

Stacey:

I do.

Liz:

I'd love to hear some.

Stacey:

Okay.

Liz:

We can't have a poet on the podcast without sharing some of your words.

Stacey:

Especially if it's a golden shovel.

Liz:

Yes, absolutely.

Stacey:

Let me see. One of my golden shovel poems I wrote back in 2021 during the pandemic, and I'm sure we can talk a lot more about writing during the pandemic because that was a big source of inspiration for me. But the poem Prompt was to write about black people in America. And so I chose an Ernest Hemingway quote, and the quote was, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong in the broken places." That's my quote. Now, those words became the last word of each line of my poem, and my poem is called We Are the Light. We were forced here in the bowels of the enslaver ships taken to a strange, vicious world where virulent inhumane white rage breaks men, women, babies, everyone. From the Middle Passage and many centuries afterward, lives and languages lost too many to document. But resilience and courage are breathing in our battered bones. We stay strong, salving scars and thriving in the stories they tell. Today, the souls of black people no longer broken. We are the light in the darkest of places.

Liz:

Beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that.

Stacey:

Thank you.

Liz:

The theme of this podcast is writing as healing, and this golden shovel had to be incredibly healing for you. Talk about how that came about, how the choice to choose the quote that you chose, and then how you envisioned this as this kind of narrative. It's this huge expansive historic poem. Was it personally healing though as well?

Stacey:

So we could probably do three episodes on poetry and healing. But during the pandemic, there was such a deep level of suffering in more ways than just thinking of COVID-19, right? Suffering with teaching on Zoom for the very first time, having never ever in my life been an online teacher. I thought about all those teachers that had taught online in the past and said, "Oh, no big deal." Never, ever. And then the suffering that I felt just as a black woman in America like with the George Floyd murder and watching all of the protests, it just felt like the trauma of that time was so much deeper than just can we survive the virus?

So the healing that I had in mind with that poem was that I know that even though this is a tough time and we're suffering and we're struggling, I know that my ancestral strength is still in my bones. I know that if I close my eyes and picture the suffering on a ship coming from Africa to America, it's beyond something I can conceive. So how dare I sit in my house and cry and whine about being shut down.

Liz:

Wow. And being able to usher that into the language, but at the same time, keep the form. It's masterful. It's a wonderful piece. Do you share your poetry with your students?

Stacey:

Yes, I write with them. I write for them. I write to inspire them. So that particular poem, no, because I think that was during Zoom, so it wouldn't have carried the same weight. But yes, it's very important for my students to see me write so that they understand that I don't just put a finished piece on the screen and say, "Here's what we're working on today," because that's like, "Well, that could be anyone. That's a magical poem on a page." But if they watch me craft the poem in front of them, it's magical. They're like, "Oh my God." We did that last week. We did found poems where you look through something and just find lines. And they were so flabbergasted that I'm looking through our texts that we were reading about African-American history, and I'm pulling lines and I'm putting them on the screen. And then I said, "Oh, this doesn't really make a lot of sense. We need to rearrange the order." And I give them the power to rearrange to help me. And then they're like, "Oh my gosh, listen, let's read it." And it was amazing.

Liz:

That's fantastic. Well, they're sold on it, right? They're sold on the magic at that point. Well, tell me about your teaching life. So you've taught in elementary school, but right now you're with fifth graders.

Stacey:

Yes.

Liz:

Have you taught other grades, right?

Stacey:

When I first started teaching, I taught first grade for a short period of time, and that was like herding cats. It's the hardest job ever. Anyone who teaches under third grade, I think they deserve double the pay.

Liz:

Yes, agree.

Stacey:

And they say the same about those of us who teach upper grade. So I've taught, the majority of my career has been fourth and fifth grade. I was once a looping teacher, which meant I would start with fourth and then keep them for two years. And that was actually the best decision I ever made for the majority of the time that I did that.

When we went on to the pandemic, I had my fourth graders that year, and I had taught them the year prior. So we went into the pandemic together as fifth graders, and I already knew, I knew exactly what they were capable of. I had spent time with them, and I thought we lost so much having to end fourth grade in March, it makes sense for me to keep them for fifth grade so I can kind of repair some of the damage I had done and see if we could, and that's been amazing. So my classroom teaching has mostly been that. When I taught for UCLA as a adjunct advisor, I was teacher ed program advisor, and then we had a cohort of student teachers who came to our school, and I made sure that they had placements with guiding teachers.

Liz:

Obviously you teach writing and you're a writer yourself. What is an assignment that you have used maybe year after year that you've noticed has produced healing for your students?

Stacey:

So if I can preface trauma and suffering first with what is it? What is that in the eyes of my students? I honestly believe that as black students and Latinx students, their trauma and their suffering, it can be abusive homes or it can be food insecurities, but the majority and most consistent suffering is racism and oppression. I like to use Langston Hughes poem called I Dream a World. The reason why I like to use that one is because I want my students to see that the world that we're in right now is full of stuff that we don't like. And so if they all agree we don't like this and we don't like that, and we can name all of these different issues, then that means we have something first in common that we're starting with. So Robert's suffering is not unique to Ms. Joy's suffering.

We're all in this same space with the same understanding. And so then I give them the poem by Langston Hughes, and then I give them a skeletal version of the poem. I've taken out words that would really only fit Langston. It's like this doesn't sound like a fifth grader. And then I ask them to fill in. And a lot of times, teachers, especially in elementary school, they don't believe that difficult poetry can be easily taught in elementary school, but it really can. It's just the method that you have to go about helping them see that. See, you can still write this poem too. So we use I Dream a World, and I can share one of the students' poems from that lesson if you like.

Liz:

I would love to hear it. I would love to hear it.

Stacey:

Okay. So I Dream a World. I dream a world where gun violence was not heard of. No other man will hurt or harm any human being, where love will be in every community and peace will be felt all around the world. I dream a world where all people place value on human life. They will have knowledge of themselves where hate is no longer permitted, a world where avarice does not darken our day. I dream a world where homeless people do not suffer. I dream a world where you can be any race and succeed. I dream a world where people share their success and wisdom. I dream a world where every man is a believer. I dream a world where honorable men will never hang their heads. And like a plant, all men, women, and children will grow. Mankind will appreciate our collective talent. I dream of such a world.

Liz:

Oh my goodness, that's great. What happens in your classroom when this kid stands up and reads this poem? Did you all just lose your mind? This is such a beautiful right.

Stacey:

Snap that.

Liz:

Yes. What a validation and what a powerful moment for that student to read that and have that reaction. That is so powerful. So from that Langston Hughes poem to this student's poem, to every other poem that kind of comes into that space, there's the opportunity for the students not only to see themselves, but also to express themselves and say, "This is who I am and this is why I'm important." So is that part of the healing, I guess? I mean writing of course, as we know, you and I are both writing project fellows. It is incredibly important from a rhetorical-

Stacey:

Yes.

Liz:

... argumentative and maybe critical thinking standpoint. But what is the social emotional piece that comes from a student like grabbing hold and getting the invitation that you've given them? What happens then?

Stacey:

I think that first they don't believe that they can do whatever it is I've put in front of them. I will say, "This is the Langston Hughes poem. You're going to write a poem like this." And they don't believe. So that's the first thing. And then as they slowly move into feeling the flow of like, "I get where my poem is going, and I know what this is going to produce and I know how I'm going to feel." All of that is back to joy and hope. I feel that they sense I have control over something that is outside of me. Like I just said that oppression and racism and unhoused people on the streets and gang violence and gun violence, I've listed all these things that are out of my control as a 10-year-old or 11-year-old in my community. But I've just written a poem that says the opposite.

Liz:

Well, and you've given them not only the invitation and the permission, but you've clearly given them the confidence to do that. So that is a returning gift. It's the gift that keeps on giving there because as soon as they hear that in the world, they can believe, they truly can believe.

Stacey:

I heard a creative writing teacher say once that writing gives you a chance to step outside of the everyday world. And I think that's what sometimes in elementary school, we are forgetting that their worlds are fun because they're children, but they're also part of a world that's really hard. And sometimes they don't know how to really name and explain the sadness and the harm that they're feeling. So that's our job to help them see that. And then once they see it, they've named it, they've put down on paper how to change it. And it's released.

Liz:

It's released, yeah. I teach high school, and I always tell my students, "Writing is not a replacement for clinical therapy," but it is absolutely a tool and a release is part of that healing. Let's switch gears just a minute.

Stacey:

Sure.

Liz:

Part of your mission is to work with young teachers, mentor young teachers. And I've noticed that that has been one of the things that has actually been in the news a lot, that we have a lot of young teachers that are leaving the profession after a couple of years. What have you seen in LA County and what have you heard from teachers and how are you mentoring these young teachers?

Stacey:

It's tough. In my particular school, we don't have a high turnover. And I believe the main reason for that is support. And I'm certain that during the pandemic and the year or two after, we saw more change. But I believe that now that everyone has settled, it feels more like we can do this. But that's in my specific space. The schools around me and just the district at large, it's a hot mess. There's a lot of angry people. There's a lot of just why this, why that, questioning everything. And honestly, I think the reason why we don't see the support in a wider context beyond my school is because there are too many people who are in positions now that had no idea that we needed to heal from the pandemic. They had no idea. They watched us be rock stars during the pandemic and coming back and then figuring out how to teach some online and some in the classroom in a mask behind a plastic glass. We did it, but they didn't think about what that did to us.

Liz:

That's right.

Stacey:

And I honestly think that teachers, now that I talk to teachers that are in workshops and sessions that I do, I feel like the main thing is to know that you are not alone. I do feel like we as a profession all have had just not a fair shot at getting back onto our feet. And I shared with-

Liz:

Agreed.

Stacey:

... with my new administrator, because we have a new principal this year. As soon as I met her, I told her, I said, "I needed to heal and I didn't." And I said, "And I saw it in my own practice last year that I was an unhealed person trying to manage in a classroom." I spent the time over the summer really taking myself through a process of understanding that it was okay for me to be afraid while I was teaching for the last two years. And now I'm giving myself grace to find a new thing that makes me feel better about who I am as a teacher. And I'm having the best time ever now.

Liz:

And it was the reflective piece. It's the reflection that brought you there. And I think there was such a scramble to somehow claw back the time that we'd lost, "lost", and it was just such a misplaced priority when you had kids just reeling emotionally and teachers reeling. And like you said, 100%, I mean, teachers across this nation rock stars, we just did it, right?

Stacey:

Right.

Liz:

And then now here we are three years out and we're still kind of like, "What just happened?"

Stacey:

Exactly. Exactly. Do you ever look back? I'm going to ask you a question.

Liz:

Yeah, go right ahead.

Stacey:

Do you ever look back at what all you were able to accomplish during the pandemic and teaching online? And you're like, "Whoa, I don't know how I did it."?

Liz:

I don't know. I mean, what you said about we can do it behind a mask, we can do it behind a glass. It was literally a learning curve. I learned five different platforms, instructional platforms, over the summer and we put them all into place. Yeah. I was like you. I'd never taught an online class ever. Yeah. It was heroism that no one saw. Tell me about the Ethical ELA. You're part of a community of teacher poets. Tell me a little bit about this. I'm interested.

Stacey:

And hopefully you'll join. So Sarah Donovan is the founder of Ethical ELA. So she has a platform where you go onto the website five days every month except for one or two months of the calendar year. You go on the platform, there are five different days of prompts and somebody's hosting the prompts for the day, and it's poetry or prose, however you choose to respond to the prompt and you write, and then you just sit it, release it there, and it's there. And the next thing you know, you're getting all these comments, "Oh my gosh, you're such a great writer. Oh, how did you do this? Teach us this form." So that's how it started. And I had no idea that it would become what it became for me. I just can't wait for the five days whenever the month comes that we're writing together.

Then she does the whole month of April, we write every day for National Poetry month. So she solicits from our community of writers who wants to host. We pick a day, we host that day, we put it out there on different social media so other people can join in. And we really just have become almost like a little family then. And this is the most exciting thing that I ever would've imagined would happen during the pandemic, Dr. Donovan works at Oklahoma State University. She decided to do an oral history project. And so during the pandemic, we partnered up with different teachers and we talked about how the pandemic was affecting us and what we were doing in our writing life. And it turned into an anthology, and then it turned into this oral, so the oral part of it is a recorded, obviously a recording that's in the archives, you can access that. But then the anthology is all of us that contributed, and it's all there. And it's like the best document of how the pandemic affected us as teachers and writers.

Liz:

That's amazing. That is amazing. So these are teachers from all over the US?

Stacey:

Mm-hmm.

Liz:

And they've all come together to do this. That's amazing. What's the name of the anthology? Can you buy it somewhere or-

Stacey:

It's on Amazon. Bridging the Distance. I can't remember the second part of it, but if you look up Bridging the Distance, it's like teacher poets. Teacher writers bridging the distance during COVID-19. Yeah.

Liz:

Yeah. That's amazing. What an experience. And especially coming together to share that. And that's part of healing too. Community and making yourself vulnerable to groups of people like that, that kind of have that safe space.

Stacey:

And many of the times when we would write, even not during the pandemic, but just any regular month of writing, you can see when somebody's poem is a cry for help. Or you can tell when somebody has lost something or someone and they need extra love. And just to put a few lines of a poem, my mom, this isn't me talking, but I remember a person saying something about the lost look in her mother's eyes because her mother was suffering from Alzheimer's. And it's like then all of a sudden there's all these other poets and teachers saying, "I'm going through that too." I mean, that's so nurturing and loving and beneficial when you're suffering.

Liz:

Thank you so much for tuning in today. For more information and to read a full transcript, visit blog.heinemann.com.

 

Prather_ConfidenceToWrite_cover_sm

 

Liz is the author of several Heinemann books, including her newest title The Confidence to Write.

 

 

 


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Author_Circle_Headshot_Prather-Liz

Liz Prather is a writing teacher at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, a gifted arts program at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky. A classroom teacher with 21years of experience teaching writing at both the secondary and post-secondary level, Liz is also a professional freelance writer and holds a MFA from the University of Texas-Austin.

Liz is the author of The Confidence to Write, Project-Based Writing: Teaching Writers to Manage Time and Clarify Purpose, and Story Matters: Teaching Teens to Use the Tools of Narrative to Argue and Inform.

 

staceyjoy

Stacey Joy is a National Board Certified Teacher, Google Certified Educator, and 2013 L.A. County Teacher of the Year. Stacey has taught elementary school for 38 years in Los Angeles Unified School District. Currently, she teaches 5th grade at Baldwin Hills Pilot and Gifted Magnet School. In addition to cultivating the joy of learning in her Joyteam scholars, she also mentors novice teachers, and is a teacher leader in her school district. Stacey is a UCLA Writing Project fellow and a dedicated writer with Dr. Sarah Donovan’s community of teacher-poets at Ethical ELA. Stacey is a self-published poet and she has poems published in various anthologies: Out of Anonymity, Savant Poetry Anthologies, Teacher Poets Writing to Bridge the Distance, and Rhythm and Rhyme: Poems for Student Athletes. Stacey is a proud mom of two adults, Kenneth and Noelle.

Topics: Podcast, Writing, Heinemann Podcast, Liz Prather, Healing, podcasts

Date Published: 04/04/24

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