2013’s Teacher Trailblazers

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

Helen Kanmwaa

Helen Kanmwaa teaches English at Channing School in Highgate, London. She feels very fortunate to be part of a department whose members all value creative writing as an essential element in the English classroom as well as a popular and flourishing extra-curricular activity in the school.

As a very young girl, Helen loved learning poetry by heart to recite to anyone who would listen; later, when studying Gerard Manley Hopkins for ‘A’ level, she found great wisdom in the poet’s advice to Robert Bridges: “Take breath and read it with the ears…” So often, it is the sound of words, their music, rhythms and the sheer relish of chewing them and tasting them which brings poetry to life for many young people and enables them to experience it and create it themselves. A vital part of writing poetry is reading it aloud, listening and letting others hear it; Helen hopes that the creative writing groups at school provide a nurturing and positive environment for students to do this.

Magnus Buchanan

Magnus Buchanan is a poetry enthusiast based in the island of Guernsey who teaches at Elizabeth College. He was born in Portsmouth and eventually made his way up north to study English Literature in Leeds. This reversed the journey of the rather more illustrious poet Simon Armitage – Magnus was lucky enough to see Armitage, Brian Patten and Philip Gross during his teens and proceeded to write quite a bit of obscure verse which bears little resemblance to any of the above. His enthusiasm for poetry has been fuelled by several chance encounters with strangers, too much time waiting at bus stops but most of all by his wife – who paints pieces to accompany them.

Since becoming a full-time teacher in 2007, Magnus has founded a creative writing website Friday’s Footprint which collects submissions from all of the secondary schools in Guernsey and organises regular competitions through the local newspaper The Guernsey Press. He has also worked with the terrific team at the Guernsey Literary Festival to help organise extra readings, competitions and slams for students. Magnus’ pupils are generally far more prolific than him on a week-to-week basis, but he has finally got around to publishing his ballad version of Victor Hugo’s The Toilers of the Sea with help from the Guernsey Arts Commission and his wife’s illustrative powers.