Inspired and Inspiring Women Guest Post – Meggan Phelan

On the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day — March 8th, 2011, I posted a call to bring more women’s voices into the “edublogging” community.  The “Inspiring and Inspiring Women Series” will feature guest posts and interviews with women who are not yet blogging, or who are just stepping into the world of edublogging.

For our first guest post, please welcome intermediate math and language arts teacher Meggan Phelan.  Meggan currently teaches at J H Putman Public School in Ottawa.  Meggan also writes and performs slam poetry and has ignited a passion for poetry in her students.  She also wrote and performed two slam poems for her teaching colleagues.  The first — exploring what Professional Development means — is included below.  Click below to listen and prepare to be inspired!  Then read Meggan’s guest post and please consider leaving some comments for Meggan too!

 PD Slam Poem Meggan Phelan

Meggan Phelan

Meggan Phelan a.k.a. @ottawameggan

I am often asked why I became an educator, or sometimes, why I continue to be once I’ve told them that I teach grade seven and eight.  This statement usually elicits an audible groan, ‘Ugh!’, or ‘Eek!’.  I love it, but attempting to explain why I love it is sometimes difficult to put into words.  Granted, it’s not the easiest grade level to teach but let’s be honest, often, easy equals boring!  I love the age group I teach because every day is different; and every day poses new challenges.  There is a poem you should look up if you don’t already know it called “What Is a Middle Schooler?” that encapsulates them so well.

Explaining why I entered the teaching profession is perhaps the most difficult.  The only thing I can say is, I always wanted to be a teacher.  As a child, I didn’t play house, I played classroom.  Of course, as most children do, I went through various phases of wanting to be a singer (no one told me I couldn’t sing), an actress (ditto), a psychologist, and I once was told by one of those job surveys you do in high school, that I should be a police officer!  Luckily, all of the notions came and went, but teaching was still there.  In honour of International Woman’s Day, I’d love to say that I was inspired by some wonderful female teacher who changed my life, but my motivation for teaching came from a darker place.  The truth is, most of my favourite teachers over the years were men, which left me wondering where are all of the strong, inspirational, passionate female teachers?  In addition to that, what motivated me to teach intermediate was my negative school experience during those years.  Before I continue and one of my intermediate teachers recognizes my name, I do want to say that I did have a few great teachers during that time, but not many.  To be more precise, not enough. 

I graduated with my Bachelor of Education at the ripe old age of 23.  No time for an honours degree, I wanted to teach!  That was ten years ago, and I continue to develop and grow as an educator.  I have taught almost every subject under the sun to a huge variety of students.  I strive to be the strong, inspirational, passionate female teacher I always promised myself I would be.  The question I often ask myself is how do I know if I am fulfilling this role in the eyes of my students?  Recently this question was answered through the vehicle of Slam Poetry.  Thirty students at my school were chosen to participate in a four-session workshop on Slam Poetry, and I was the lucky teacher chosen to facilitate these sessions.  Two professional poets came in and wowed us with their talent while teaching the kids they could do it too.  We all felt inspired and started writing and performing.  It was an amazing experience that left me wanting more.  How could I keep these kids feeling inspired to write, listen and perform?  So, with the support of my Principal, I started the Putman Slam Poet’s Society; a club that meets weekly to create and share spoken word poetry. 

Last month was the first Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam which is a monthly event created by local poets and community organizations to bring together youth from the ages of 12 to 19 to participate in a poetry workshop and a Slam (competitive spoken word).  Since it takes place in the evening I couldn’t bring the kids myself, so I had to hope that all of the encouragement I had given them would be enough to motivate them to get themselves there to participate.  Clearly I was thrilled when several of my students showed up that night and had enough confidence to get on stage and give it their all even though they were the youngest participants.  I left that evening on a teacher high!  My years of teaching have taught me that the most important part of any learning environment is safety, and the supportive environment of spoken word poetry is based on just that.  Kids are putting themselves out there with their own creations that are often times very personal, and the community supports them and raises them up each and every time.  It’s amazing!  Watching these kids shine has reminded me why I always wanted to be a teacher.

So, have I become the strong, inspirational, passionate female teacher I always wanted to be?  Each and every time a student walks off that stage and looks at me with an ear to ear grin, I have to answer….yes!

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26 Responses to Inspired and Inspiring Women Guest Post – Meggan Phelan

  1. Inspired & Inspiring Women Guest Post by @ottawameggan #cpchat #edchat #slampoetry Can u leave comment 4 meggan, plz?

  2. Amy says:

    Megan – Thanks for writing this post ~ isn't it just lovely when you leave at the end of a day and know that you've inspired or given confidence to even one student? The poetry work that you described sounds inspiring – I know most definitely that your students are learning and growing each day! :-)

    • Amy says:

      My apologies for spelling your name incorrectly Meggan — I was so interested in your post and then commenting that I didn't go back up to the top. Most surely a compliment! :-)

  3. Stephen Hurley says:

    Meggan, welcome to the blogosphere, and thanks for this first post. I look forward to reading more from you. Through your professional life and, specifically, through your poetry, you have raised your voice and the voices of your students. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel had to sacrifice her voice at first in order to get what she wanted. And I frequently run into middle school females who feel that this is still necessary.

    Thanks for the counternarrative. Thanks for the passion.


  4. Annie Sisk says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Meggan! And as the parent of a middle-school girl, thank you so much for all you do and for the example you set.

  5. A well-crafted, authentic post, Meggan. Welcome to the world of blogging! Like you, I had many teachers who shaped my vision of who and what I wanted to be — and who I could become: Mrs. Sher, my first grade teacher, who inspired me to become an art teacher (which I'm not, technically, but sort of); my 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Beckers, who said I should become a writer (so I did); and Mrs Kirkwood, my textile design teacher in college who loved her job more than life itself and wore an up-to-there beehive hairdo that defied gravity. I love my career almost as much as life itself, but the hairdo just isn't me. Now that I am embarking on a slight career change, doing more speaking and consulting in the art of Intentional Networking, I realize what an honor it is to absorb information, take in experiences and inspire the next generations. Best of luck to you!

  6. Mike Wagner says:

    It's hard to know the good we do. And at times it is best we don't.

    But teaching is a conversation — student and teacher — giving and taking and giving again. And so, you get some feedback like the ear to ear grin you mention.

    It may not be the big payoff — "a student of mine just won the Pulitzer and credits me with their inspiration."

    But it's clearly enough for you. And that inspires me!

    Thank you for sharing your journey in this post. Keep writing and posting please…and keep creating,

  7. Sue Sneath says:

    Meggan, I too feel like I have put on my most comfortable flannel pants when I get back into a middle school. I am inspired by these young adults who are trying to "figure it all out". Thank you for igniting the spark of creativity and literature in your students…I am certain that you are an inspiring "female" favorite among your students. Keep it up!

  8. irene ross says:

    Hi Meggan, as one yet to start, I say to say thank you for inspiring me!

  9. @adriander12 says:

    Hi Megan – awesome post. I had to laugh when you went through the litany of career choices when you were younger. I too ping-ponged around different career choices: minister (and if you knew me, you'd laugh you're you-know-what -off) because I liked the robes; marine biologist until I was informed that I would have to leave Ottawa to study near (gasp) an ocean!; police officer – also in that high school questionnaire; and social worker until my professor warned not to go into it if you feel it would burn you out…so I chose teaching (cue laughter).
    I'm glad you've entered the profession of teaching – and I am especially glad you love intermediate (I do too). Even now there are gender assumptions when it comes to the grades we teach. I know a few people who's eyebrows went up at the thought of a male primary teacher, and typically we think of intermediate and senior teachers as being male.
    Congratulations on inspiring and supporting your students through the slam poetry. And please keep blogging!
    Shannon, you've inspired me to invite someone to guest blog on my site :)

  10. barbaramworks says:

    The phrase "I left that evening on a teacher high" jumped out as I read your post. It is this passion for finding that place were children feel valued, supported, safe and able to risks that truly ignites those of us who are privileged to be educators of the next generation. Thanks for stepping out of your comfort level and sharing your experience.


  11. Good morning, earlybirds – have a minute to comment & encourage a guest edublogger this am? #cpchat #edchat #ocdsb Thx

  12. Teacher Trainee says:

    Hi Meggan, I'm still working through my career choices at the ripe old age of 31. I loved you poem! Your students are lucky to have you in their lives!

  13. Heidi Siwak says:

    Thanks Megan, that was "perfectly delightful!" What a nice way to start the day.

  14. Brent Smith says:

    Great post, Meg! It has been amazing to watch first-hand the effect that the Putman Slam Poetry Society has had on the school population. Your crew is taking poetry out of the text books and bringing it to the stage…great buy in….providing students with a voice…giving the poets some much needed street (or should I say hall) credibility…I love it!
    I can't wait to read your next post! Hopefully you can shine a light on that poetry graffiti wall that is growing outside of your classroom…

  15. Meg Lim says:

    Meggan, Teaching is my 3rd or 4th career, but my parents were both educators, and all my careers had a component of teaching involved. But it was when I was a stay-at-home mother for 13 years, that my passionate teacher emerged. I got a later start than you in finding my role as a special education teacher, but I also have been doing it for about 10 years. I work with high school students with Asperger Syndrome, anxiety disorders, and depression, and I am inspired a energized when I witness their break-throughs and success at trying new things that way outside their comfort zone, like your young poets breaking through the risk of embarrassment and then, experiencing the admiration of their peers and teachers. I applaud you for creating the setting for these experiences. You should be on a teacher high. This is the job we are given. If we can create a learning environment that allows children to experience the struggle of learning, then they will be life-long learners. My philosophy of teaching is that all learning happens in the "struggle", our job is to get the students to embrace the struggle and accept that it is the key to personal growth and learning. Congratulations to you for doing that so well!

  16. Great comments on @ottawameggan’s guest post – wonderful thoughts – love it.

  17. @L_Hilt says:

    Meggan, it's great to get to know you and hear your inspiring story. Your poetry is amazing!! Thanks for making a difference in the lives of students. I hope you'll continue to share the great things you've been doing!

  18. bsherry says:

    Hi Meggan,

    Thanks for this inspiring post! I love what you said here:

    "My years of teaching have taught me that the most important part of any learning environment is safety, and the supportive environment of spoken word poetry is based on just that. Kids are putting themselves out there with their own creations that are often times very personal, and the community supports them and raises them up each and every time. It’s amazing! Watching these kids shine has reminded me why I always wanted to be a teacher."

    I think slam poetry, like many of the other arts we can explore with students do provide something special in terms of building a community of learners. We should be adding MORE of the arts to our schools rather than cutting them! Perhaps one of the ways that ed tech can support this is because of the tools we now have to help students become creators…poetry, design, presentations, movies…whatever medium they choose!
    Thanks for helping ignite the passion in your students!


  19. Barb says:

    Hi, Meggan –
    I am closer to 'the other end' of my career – and wouldn't change a thing. Yesterday, I had lunch with a student that I worked with in elementary school. He's an engineer now – always did enjoy math activities. . . and I still love Middle School kids for all of the reasons that are outlined in the poem.
    Enjoy your journey – it looks like you will have many years of exciting, invigorating and rewarding work ahead of you – your passion is definitely showing!

  20. Derek Shore says:

    Passion = Meggan Phelan. It's an honour to be working with such a classy and quality teacher! Keep up the awesome work Phelan!


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