Anne Barnett is all about dressing the part. On a recent weekday morning in her classroom, she sported a basketball jersey while reading poetry aloud to a room full of sixth-graders.


“I dress up throughout the year,” said Barnett, who teaches at Begich Middle School. “So if we’re reading, like, detectives, then I have the mustache and the hat and a big awkward tie.”


For this reading session, instead of a tie, Barnett holds a basketball while explaining her “Poetry Shootout Showdown.”


“Hands down, this is the only way I’ll ever teach poetry,” she said.


The exercise is a spin-off of March Madness and infuses competition, an important aspect to get her students excited to interpret poetry and decide which poem they like best.


“They care because they’re competing, they’re invested,” Barnett added.


Barnett’s enthusiasm goes beyond her wardrobe. The students are engaged and listening when Barnett reads poems aloud, which assists in teaching them the difference between figurative and literal meanings.


“Other teachers are kind of boring,” said Yanay Rojas, a student at Begich. “But Ms. Barnett is different … she gets super into the poem. One time, there was this Native dance poem, and she just started dancing. It was fun.”


Begich Middle School consistently ranks in the Top 5 schools in the country for being the most diverse, Barnett says. She wants her students to express their background and finds it to be an asset and strength for the school.


“A regular thing I’ll say to students is, ‘I’m one of those good adults in your life that really does care, and I want to know what’s going on with you,'” Barnett said.


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