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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

The Thursday Post: To Learn the Future

Next week sees the publication of To Learn the Future: Poems for Teachers, a pocket-sized book of poems that will be a gift from the education profession to all newly-qualified teachers in Scotland in 2018 and 2019. The book offers a way to strengthen new teachers’ personal resilience, and let them know they are not alone in whatever challenges they meet. In addition to being given to new teachers, copies can be bought from the SPL in person or online.

Edited by Lilias Fraser, Jane Cooper and Kate Hendry, To Learn the Future is a selection of poems that will grip at first reading – perfect if the only time you have is five minutes in a rushed lunchbreak. The choice of poems includes insight for days when teachers need to find extra courage, compassion and commitment, as well as celebration of the inspirational, the funny and the reflective.

‘I think a lot of the teachers who read this book,’ says Cooper, ‘will think, “Yes, it’s okay to feel like this. I’ve noticed that too. I had a situation like that.” The book will be most successful when it gives a teacher a moment of recognition.’

In 2018, newly qualified teachers in Scotland will be presented with copies of To Learn the Future, whose poems will describe experiences probationers will soon encounter. The poems are funny, serious, and inspiring, with some focussing on the individual perspectives that different teachers and pupils bring to the classroom. The poets featured include, amongst others, Emily Dickinson, Roger McGough, Billy Collins, Sophie Hannah and Carol Ann Duffy.

To Learn the Future is a follow-up to the SPL’s anthology for newly graduated medical students Tools of the Trade: Poems for Doctors. In 2014, we published the first edition, a pocket-sized anthology of around 50 poems edited by doctors and featuring poems by doctor-poets, Tools of the Trade recognised how difficult the early months in a junior doctor’s career can be; the anthology could be pulled out during quiet moments on a shift, its poems chosen to help doctors focus on compassion and to encourage personal resilience in an emotionally challenging workplace.

Tools of the Trade was a great success, attracting interest within the UK – and outside (a Wall Street Journal article on Tools spiked interest in North America, so much so we sold out the second edition of Tools’ print run). Given how successful the model was, we wondered whether there were other professions whose newest members might benefit from a Tools-style volume. The answer wasn’t long in suggesting itself: teaching. It wasn’t only the high number of classroom teachers who wrote poetry – Robert Frost, Liz Lochhead, W.H. Auden, D.H Lawrence – but also, as already suggested, that poems lend themselves naturally towards the imparting of life lessons.

We should also thank the copyright holders for their generosity with reduced or waived fees; and our partners, without whom we couldn’t have published To Learn the Future: the General Teaching Council of Scotland and the EIS, plus the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, and the Association of Headteachers and Deputies Scotland.

To Learn the Future is published not-for-profit by the Scottish Poetry Library. As well as giving copies to newly qualified teachers in Scotland, we shall also place copies on sale in our shop and online from 14 August.

If you’d like to help with costs for To Learn the Future, you can text a donation through JustTextGiving. Text poem18 £10 (or amount of your choice) to 70070. You can also donate by cheque made payable to Scottish Poetry Library, and posted to Scottish Poetry Library (FAO Poems for Teachers), 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8DT. Thank you!