English Teacher

Cheryl Lockhart

APRIL 3, 2003 · Cheryl Lockhart teaches English at Amphitheater High School in Tucson, Ariz. A few days ago, her students began one class talking about poetry and wound up discussing the war in Iraq. "I think of all the 27 years I've taught and there was a sense that I've never felt before -- of just my lifting a lid off of a powder keg, that they had been waiting for someone to let them vent about the subject." Once a week, one of her English students gives a presentation about a poem. Lockhart's War Diary entry begins with a discussion of a poem that one student chose, called "What Were They Like?" by the American poet Denise Levertov.

It's a poem about Vietnam. It has wonderful imagery suggesting the contrast of the violence with these beautiful images of beautiful people and children. When it was finished, I just kind of tossed out the question, 'Well, how are the rest of you feeling about this war right now?'

"What Were They Like?" by Denise Levertov

Modern American Poetry: Denise Levertov

Amphitheater High School

And, first of all, they became very, very quiet and very reluctant to speak. But it evolved very quickly into a real emotional outburst and it was interesting what they did and did not say. One of the things they didn't talk about was the reasons we've gone to war. Those topics didn't come up, the dialogue that we hear in the news all the time. What it quickly evolved into is a sense of personal threat. In fact, I said, 'It sounds to me like you're feeling personally unsafe.' And the boy that was talking said, 'Absolutely, I feel this will lead to nuclear war.'

And the class was very predominantly with him. As one boy said, 'It's not just the Middle East has been unstabilized, I feel like my world has been unstabilized.' And one girl got very emotional about, 'Don't forget the killing of Iraqi people' -- and this is my student who was actually born in Baghdad -- and she said, 'Think about the people in Iraq, how they feel.'

Then the bell rang. Everybody stayed in their seats. And as a teacher, I felt like I needed to put some kind of resolution, calm them down. And so I just ended it by saying, 'This is a conversation you need to have with your families, this is a conversation that you need to have with your whole life.' And they seem very fragile and vulnerable, these young kids. And it bothers me a lot that they're frightened.


NPR's Privacy Policy

Copyright 2003 NPR