2012’s Teacher Trailblazers

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

Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith was born on the Isle of Man and brought up in Stoke-on-Trent. Aged eight, he was told off for writing a ‘flippant’ poem about a crow. Later, at Newcastle-under-Lyme School, he was fortunate enough to be taught by Peg Hulse and Peter Cash, who inspired him to write again. This resulted in various commendations, but also such gems as ‘Predestination’, a Prufrock-inspired epic poem set in a Stoke-on-Trent car park, which managed to rhyme ‘ego’ with ‘Austin Montego’ and has thankfully since been lost.

Ashley studied Modern Languages at Cambridge, where he wrote opinions pieces for Varsity, comedy sketches, short stories and the first chapters of twenty-odd novels. He started teaching in 2000 and has been Head of English at St John’s College School since 2009, where he is supported by wonderful colleagues who share his passion for teaching poetry. Our pupils’ poems have been commended in the Foyle’s Young Poets, SATIPS and Fairhaven Singers’ Poetry Competitions and are showcased in our annual Y8 poetry evening and Eaglet magazine.

Ashley will finish one of the novels one day. His fantasy Come Dine With Me guests would be Philip Larkin, Alan Bennett, Morrissey and Victoria Wood.

Fiona Turner

Fiona has been teaching for over ten years and has had many roles in Hertfordshire schools from being a Head of English to Assistant Principal and has now become an Advanced Skills Teacher of English at Milton Keynes Academy.

Poetry has long been a passion of Fiona’s and she considers herself to be very lucky to have grown up in a household where poetry was a part of everyday life. Her parents often read the poems of Causley, Auden, Betjeman and Ayres instead of bedtime stories and the whole family took great delight in turning everyday occurrences into rhyme.

One of her earliest memories is having one of her poems published in the school anthology and realising that poetry was not difficult or complicated but intensely personal and often exciting. This passion for poetry is shared with and by her students and she has found that making the links between poetry and popular music helps the students to overcome their fear of the ‘P’ word. Fiona is very much looking forward to working with colleagues from around the country on poetry projects over the coming year.