Meet Teaching Artist Shirley Jones Luke

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Shirley Jones Luke is an educator, poet, and writer. Ms. Luke lives in Boston, Massachusetts, in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester. Shirley has an MFA from Emerson College. She works as a freelance writer, doing book reviews and pieces on educational issues. Ms. Luke has been published in several magazines and journals, such as AntiHeroin ChicBlazeVoxCadaverousDeluge, and Long Leaf Review. Shirley is currently working on a poetry collection.

To see Shirley's current classes, visit her artist bio page.




When did you start teaching? What path—career or otherwise—brought you here?

I began teaching over 15 years ago for the Boston Public Schools. I began in English language arts then humanities. I always incorporated poetry into my lessons. As a poet, I feel that poetry help makes ELA concepts more understandable. In addition, poetry is a diverse and inclusive genre. Anyone can read poetry and/or write poetry. Some of the most famous poets currently are poets of color, such as Kaveh Akbar, Jericho Brown, Laila Longsoldier, Ada Limon, Tomas Marin, Terrance Hayes, Morgan Parker, and Danez Smith. What brought me to the Loft was an opportunity to reach more adults with poetry. And help adults create their own poems. With the current pandemic, online teaching is the best route to reach students.


How would you describe your teaching style?

My teaching style is energetic and interactive. In online classes, I incorporate videos, games, and interviews to make poetry come alive. I do read alouds and have author reads. I like to make my class fun and comfortable. I encourage questions and provide feedback to students.


When it comes to imagining and creating classes, where do your ideas come from? What in particular inspires you?

My ideas come from other teachers. I read a lot and watch Youtube, which also provide me with ideas. I want my class to be an informative place where students actively participate in the space. What inspires me are classrooms where students are eager to engage with the work and are excited to be there.


What's the ideal environment for your classroom? What atmosphere are you hoping to establish?

An ideal environment is one that is an oasis for my students. It is a place where students can be who they are and express themselves. I want them to engage with the content. I'm hoping to establish a community atmosphere. I want students to learn from me as well as each other.


Regardless of what your class is specifically focusing on, what's the main goal you have for your students?

My main goal for my students is for them to come away at the end of the class with a piece of poetry. I want them to be excited about what they've created. I want students to realize that they're poets.


What are goals you have for yourself? These could be teaching goals, writing goals, career goals, community goals, etc.

I am looking to publish my poetry manuscript. I'm also working on a series of essays. I'm developing a YA novel. My goals are to continue to see my work in print and creating more work for people to read and enjoy.


What have been some of your own favorite educational experiences?

During a year I taught ninth grade, a young man who didn't like poetry wrote a poem. When he shared it, it was well written. When he was done, I told him that he was a poet. He couldn't believe that he had actually written such a beautiful piece.


To you personally, what is the most important part of the literary arts?

The literary arts needs to be accessible and inclusive. The literary arts needs to be funded. There should be more arts in the schools, especially at young ages. Students should be exposed to poetry as early as possible. Students should also read a wide variety of poets.


Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I look forward to working with the students at the Loft!