2009’s Trailblazers

Read their top tips for teaching poetry and try out their lesson plans.

Sophie Breese

Sophie Breese has been teaching English at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, London for nearly seven years. A good teacher, she believes, is one who has had some adventures and has their own interests outside the classroom. For Sophie, this outside interest is creative writing: she does write some poetry, although she feels fiction is more her forte. This summer she went as a participant on an Arvon Foundation Writers’ Retreat at Moniack Mhor, in Scotland.

Sophie loves all aspects of being in the classroom but she has found that teaching creative writing has been particularly rewarding. She runs a creative writing group once a week, which between twenty to thirty students across the whole 11-18 age range attend. The school provides other creative writing activities too: poets come once a term for a day to offer workshops to classes and tutorials to individuals; a Poet-in-Residence scheme was started last summer with Colette Bryce being the inaugural poet; there is a high-quality literary magazine published once a year; the school organises two internal competitions; and last year a group of older students were chosen to attend an Arvon Foundation course.

Jude Brigley

Jude Brigley has been Head of English at Cardiff High School for the last twelve years, but was recently promoted to Director of Learning and Teaching (focusing on pedagogy). Her lifetime quest is to find ways to engage students with their learning and poetry, which has always been her passion.

Earlier in her career, she ran two performance poetry groups, Connect and Poetry Unlimited, which both worked in schools. She is also the editor of two poetry anthologies, The Poet’s House (Pont, 1998) and Exchanges: Poems by Women in Wales (Honno, 1990), which were created with students in mind.

She believes that poetry should be at the heart of the English curriculum and that it can play an important role in everybody’s life. She has spoken on the subject at various places including N.A.T.E., the Library Association and various conferences. While being an experienced examiner, inset provider and research student, she still retains her enthusiasm for the classroom.

Peter Cash

Peter Cash was born in Lincolnshire on the last day of 1949. He is a graduate of Nottingham University and a Life Member of the Poetry Society. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 1975 and a prize in the National Poetry Competition in 1982; in both 2007 and 2008, he was successful in The Fellows’ Poetry Prize Competition (English Association).

Between 1985 and 2009, he was Head of English Studies at Newcastle-under-Lyme School in Staffordshire (of which both T E Hulme (1883-1917) and John Wain (1925-1994) are alumni); since 1986, he organised an annual school poetry competition. He has published five collections of poems, including Fen Poems (Staple, 1992) and Lincolnshire Churches (Shoestring Press, 1998). He contributes regularly to The Use of English for which he has most recently prepared articles on Raymond Carver (Summer 2008) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (Spring 2009).

Fiona Drye

Fiona Drye is Head of English at Wellingborough Prep School, in Northamptonshire. She was born and brought up at Gresham’s School, Norfolk, where her father was Headmaster. On long drives to the Highlands, he would entertain his family by reciting a fascinating mixture of Macaulay’s ‘Horatius’, Hilaire Belloc, A.A. Milne and singing Schubert or ribald rugby songs.

At the local primary school things were less promising; as an undiagnosed dyslexic, she found schoolwork confusing and de-motivating, yet she adored reading. It wasn’t until an English teacher, at Gresham’s, introduced her to ‘Richard 11’, Wilfred Owen and E.E. Cummings that her attitude towards ‘Education’ changed. He asked her for her own interpretation: to think for herself!Realising that what she had never liked about school was being taught, she found a love of learning and quickly developed a taste for highly descriptive prose (Lawrence Durrell, Dickens, Emily Bronte, Hardy, Peake). Soon she discovered that most of the authors she admired also wrote great poetry. This lead her to study English at university and here she enjoyed epic poems, such as ‘The Iliad’, ‘The Odyssey’, ‘The Faerie Queene’ and ‘Paradise Lost’.

Richard Evans

Richard Evans was lucky enough to have a mum who read him silly poems by Spike Milligan, a teacher at primary school who gave him a gold star for his first poem and an A-level teacher who was a Ted Hughes fanatic. For the last seven years he has been Head of English at Tonbridge School in Kent and has tried, with the help of a fantastic department, to make reading and writing poetry a natural part of the educational experience.

Through a thriving creative writing society, the use of writers in residence, and regular readings by the boys themselves, he has tried above all to resist the unfortunate notion that poetry is difficult or a ‘problem’.

One of Richard’s favourite memories:

Tonbridge School, 1994: my Head of Department manages to squeeze fifteen students onto an Arvon Creative writing course. A bloke called Ted Hughes pops in one evening to read us drafts of what he is working on. The students aren’t quite sure why their two teachers are so excited.

Sue Gale

Sue Gale has taught for the last 34 years in schools in South Tyneside, West Sussex, and most recently Northumberland. At the present time, she is the English and Literacy Coordinator at Lindisfarne Middle school in Alnwick, a market town situated in the north east part of the county.

She has taught there since 1990 but took four years out to work as the Teaching and Learning Strategy Manager for a local EAZ (Education Action Zone), working with over 21 schools on a variety of projects.

Sue loves teaching English, especially poetry, and believes that it is often a rather forgotten bit of the English Curriculum. Her English department often works on combined projects with either the music or the art departments, sometimes both, and on two occasions they were extremely lucky and privileged to be chosen as the only English school to work with the National Scottish Gallery on two very different and very exciting projects, one of which culminated in the publication of a book of children’s poems by the gallery.

Joan Secombe

Joan has been teaching at Bishop Luffa School in Chichester for all thirty five years of her teaching career. Her responsibility is pastoral rather than academic, but she has always had a reputation as someone who ‘likes poetry’.

It was the arrival of a new Head of English that made celebrating creativity an integral part of the school’s practice. Barry Smith inaugurated a creative writing magazine, Knight Life which they co-edited for 25 years, as well as showcasing the best work in an annual event.

The school has always been determined to nurture young talent, so that lower school writers are encouraged and blossom into Sixth Form writers. By this stage pupils often write independently and bring their poems to Joan outside lesson times and she has become more of an editor than a teacher. Joan was often challenged by these older students to become a writer herself so when she was offered a half a term sabbatical she took herself off on an Arvon course and then tried to put into practice what she had taught for so long! This was a wonderful opportunity that made her even more keen to enable children to experience the excitement of their own creativity.

Cliff Yates

Cliff Yates is a poet and teacher. He is Deputy Head of Maharishi School, where he teaches English throughout the secondary school and where his students are extraordinarily successful at winning creative writing competitions. During his time as Poetry Society poet-in-residence, he wrote Jumpstart Poetry in the Secondary School: “The best aid to the teaching of poetry writing since Sandy Brownjohn’s work of the 1980s” (Gordon Wilson in The Teacher). His anthology Oranges: Poems from Maharishi School was a TES Book of the Week.

His collection of poems Henry’s Clock (Smith/Doorstop) won both the Aldeburgh first collection prize and the Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition. His pamphlets include 14 Ways of Listening to the Archers and Emergency Rations. He received an Arts Council England Writer’s Award for Frank Freeman’s Dancing School, forthcoming from Salt.

He works extensively with teachers and runs courses and workshops in schools, colleges, universities and for organisations such as the Arvon Foundation, the Poetry Society, NATE and the British Council. He has published and broadcast widely on teaching poetry, and has a PhD in Creative Writing and Poetics.