Teachers: Extraordinary Teaching and Poetry During the Coronavirus Pandemic by Gagandeep Chaggar

We asked 2019 Teacher Trailblazer Gagandeep Chaggar to tell us what it has been like for a teacher in lockdown. Gagandeep has shared with us her insight as well as some fantastic poetry tips.

Field of yellow flowers

Stress is no a stranger to teachers. It is the very thing that gives us the adrenaline to make 100 micro decisions a second in the classroom every day. But this is a different kind of stress. It is the weight of a global pandemic. A heightened worry for our loved ones as well as our pupils and their loved ones. Possibly even an expectation to be a full-time parent and teacher at the same time. We have a duty as educators but our primary duty is as caregivers (not just literally for those of us who are supervising the children of key workers right now). One of the most valuable ways we can help those in our care is by looking after ourselves. And that goes for everyone – not just teachers.

I started to immerse myself in poetry after I went for a long walk last weekend to cool down. I just went in the direction my feet took me. I walked and walked, stopping to notice the small details I normally miss when I have company on a planned, routed walk. I started to feel like Wordsworth or Coleridge even if my inspiration came from not one, but two abandoned, cracked suitcases rather than boats and mountains. Then I stopped at a bridge over a motorway next to a stunning field of yellow flowers. The contrast between the sight and sounds of the motorway, the clear blue sky, the bendy bridge and the vivid yellow of the flowers and the sunlight resulted in a wave of calm. I wrote a poem there and then on my phone. It wasn’t great but it made me feel great. I wanted to continue that feeling. Now I have the time, I’ve started paying attention to the poem-a-day emails that pop into my inbox, enjoying the moment of calm while I read and immerse myself in someone else’s experience. It sparks off a woven, multi-layered thought process including many other poems I hold close – including Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ and John Agard’s ‘Rainbow’ – and I find some strength and courage in the face of this adversity. I hope for a rainbow at the end of this storm.

I later learnt that serendipitous field was full of turnips. Who knew an ordinary vegetable which grows underground is possible of creating, on the surface, such a bright, beautiful flower – made more beautiful by the vast quantity that flooded the field? I feel a metaphor coming on for my next poem – about a deadly disease which brought out the extraordinary beauty of our seemingly ordinary lives when we united together against it.

If I haven’t already painted a clichéd picture of myself as a typical English teacher, I will proceed to quote from Dead Poets Society:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it is cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.”

If you need ideas about how to increase your exposure to poetry or inspire your students and loved ones to read and write, here are some tips:

Some of my favourite poets:

  • Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey – she posts great poems on her Instagram (@rupikaur)
  • A recommendation from my friend, Sian, recently: Jaspreet Kaur (@behindthenetra)
  • John Agard’s ‘Half Caste’ and every other poem he has written and performed
  • Maya Angelou – especially ‘Phenomenal Woman’ and ‘Still I Rise’
  • Benjamin Zephaniah – especially the collections Too Black, Too Strong and We are Britain!
  • One for you or older students – Salena Godden is the first poet I saw perform poetry and I am mesmerised whenever I watch her perform. Watch this!


Gagandeep Chaggar is a 2019 Teacher Trailblazer. She has taught English in Birmingham and West London and is Head of English in Ark Pioneer in September 2019. Gagandeep enjoys writing poetry herself and designed a poetry writing unit at her previous school, Greenford High School. Check out Gagandeep’s lesson plan  using Em Power’s Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award winning poem, ‘God in 80s Movies’

Each year we reward teachers who show exceptional dedication to the teaching of poetry in schools. These teachers help develop best practice for working with poetry and young people and share creative ways to bring poetry to life in the classroom. Find out more about this year’s Teacher Trailblazers, and read their top tips for teaching poetry and try out their lesson plans.