Student’s Spoken Word Gives Voice to Students and Teachers

Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow Gamal Sherif sent us this back-to-school poem for teachers, written by one of his 2011 graduates from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Penn., Sinnea Douglas. Sherif describes this young poet as a hero and “Guiding Star of Education,” because of her honest and passionate poetry. In this insightful poem, 18-year-old Sinnea Douglas reminds teachers about the importance of meaningful student engagement and reminds us to “practice (our) practice forever.”

Sinnea Douglas

Sinnea has been studying poetry since 2007, when she attended a lunchtime poetry club meeting at her school. By 2009, she was a competitive member of the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, and in 2011 she competed in the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival. Though competition is an important part of the spoken word festival, Douglas emphasizes peer collaboration, friendship and fellowship. “It’s not the competition, it’s the poetry that’s important,” she said.

This past summer, Douglas and her team took first place at the 2011 Festival. Readers may view a video clip of Sinnea speaking her original poem, which she prepared for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival.

When I become a teacher

When I become a teacher
I’ll put a map of the world on every wall in my classroom
My students will always know to have a universal mindset
When they hear freedom, they’ll think of more than spirituals and Emancipation
They’ll remember the stinking pits at Babi Yar
The curled steel at Auschwitz
Sarajevo’s rifle butts
Cambodia’s grit and sweat and death
These classroom walls will not fence their minds.
Eyes will be opened. Again.

Instead of asking my students to adjust to my teaching style
Fawn in silent awe over my genius
I’ll ask them how they learn
Then tend to the visual
and tactile learners
the best way I can
They’ll never doubt their place in my plan,
Confuse our classroom for a cookie-cutter
Stage where they must sit on their hands.
I’ll take criticism.
Gather it like gold dust between my fingers.

Never satisfied, I’ll Practice my practice forever.

My classroom will be painted bright blues and yellows

Along with students drawings, murals and poetry
Displays of Me Magazines
And word walls
Scenes from books acted out
Role playing
and Mock trials
I will appreciate their creativity

I will teach my students inquiry
Ask them questions about the world around them
Their opinions on issues from health care to the Palestine Wall
I won’t talk at them, but with them
We’ll have discussions and debates
I will challenge them
Ask them how they would tackle issues like budgets cuts
Low reading levels
And school safety
I’ll ask them how they feel about Pennsylvania finding money to build 3 more prisons but cutting funding from schools
Or how they feel about districts paying millions for standardized test and curriculum but not having enough for extra curricular activities
They will be informed

My students will be poets
All while being beautiful
Everyday I will tell them they’re beautiful

Sinnea Douglas
Sinnea will be attending Ursinus College this fall.


  1. Love the “I’ll take criticism. Gather it like gold dust between my fingers..” wish I could add, “I’ll supply optimism. Hopefully we’ll get it back.”

  2. Thank you, Gamal and Sinnea. Very powerful poem for Back to School. This is the true School Reform — not the scripted, bubbled-in nonsense that is being touted as the promise of education. Right on

Comments are closed.