The 12-year-olds surprise me everyday (go middle school!) but sometimes they really, really surprise me.

One of the standards we cover in our China unit is about the Imperial state and the system of scholar-officials who ran the Chinese bureaucracy. This connects to another standard I am supposed to cover about Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism. All of this stuff is very dry and very abstract, and it doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to any sort of fun, game-based learning. I have a pretty solid textbook text with text dependent questions from Year 1 that I had ready to print off, but you really can’t orchestrate a whole 70-minute class period around kids reading a really easy text and answering questions. So I pulled out a poem I had found two years ago but never had the chance to use. It’s a ninth century poem written from the point of view of someone who has just passed his civil service examination. It’s a pretty dry poem, and I was worried about introducing the topic of scholar-officials with it, but the kids blew me away! We don’t usually analyze 9th century Chinese poems together (or, any poems for that matter), but their connections were so exciting. I was really proud of how seriously they took it. Here’s to taking risks (and to using poetry!) in the classroom!


Po Chu-I (772-846 AD) was a famous poet during the Tang Dynasty.

After passing the examination (by Po Chu-I)


For ten years I never left my books,
I went up… and won unmerited* praise.
My high place I do not much prize;
The joy of my parents will first make me proud.
Fellow students, six or seven men,
Waive goodbye as I leave the City gate.
My covered coach is ready to drive away;
Flutes and strings blend their parting tune.
Hopes achieved dull the pains of parting;
Fumes of wine shorten the long road…
Shod* with wings is the horse of him who rides
On a Spring day the road that leads to home.