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A Teacher's 'If' Poem for Her Students

In honor of National Poetry Month (and Friday .... whew, it's Friday!), we felt compelled to pass along a poem that a teacher sent to us. Jennifer Martin, a veteran English teacher at Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., wanted her 12th graders to write a poem in the style of Rudyard Kipling's "If." So, as good teachers do, she penned one of her own first to model the process and product.

In an email, Martin told us: "My goals in English class are to help students make sense of their world, to broaden their perspective by exposing them to a wide range of voices, and to help them become more thoughtful and articulate. My hope is that my efforts help them find a sense of purpose and a happy life."

You might also notice the poem's subtle nods to the ELA Common Core State Standards—textual evidence, interpreting complex texts, building an argument, etc. (Another way teachers are managing to keep poetry in the curriculum under the common standards.) Also, see if you can catch the irony in the second-to-last line. Enjoy!

If ... You Study With Ms. Martin

If you can get to class on time still walking
And find your pencil and remove your hat,
If you can sit and listen without talking,
Yet share insightful, intellectual chat,
If you can hear the critics of your drafting
And use their comments to improve your work,
Politely finding faults in others' crafting
And seek to edit more where errors lurk—

If you can parse the pages and the chapters,
If you can diagram and annotate,
If syntax pure and ideas bold you capture,
And all the quotes you choose elucidate,
If you can write a careful, thoughtful sentence
Revealing irony within the text,
Or build clear arguments, without a pretense,
To leave the reader wiser not perplexed,

If you can research topics and stay curious
Or plumb the limits of the printed word,
If you can tell which data may be spurious
And disagreeing, let the fools be heard,
If writing you employ the apt quotation
You drew from Shakespeare's scene or Shelley's poem,
While using proper MLA notation,
And claim no thoughts as yours except your own:

If you can take all that you learn in English
And use the lessons in both love and strife,
If you see the angelic and the impish
In characters in fiction as in life,
If delving page by page between the covers
Engaged in studying universal themes—
You may not ever be a published author
But you will wisely cope with life's extremes.

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