SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ  – For nearly two decades, Roosevelt Elementary teacher Mike Bertram has been encouraging his students to express their thoughts and feelings by putting pen to paper. Each year, students in his third grade class write dozens of poems that coincide with the curriculum while also helping them to embrace differences, build confidence, and learn more about themselves and others. 

“In school we have to do a lot of writing. We have to write essays and sentences, but when you can have that creative release, it is the ultimate freedom,” Bertram, who is affectionately known throughout the halls of the school and community as ‘Mr. B,’ said. “Poetry is the perfect vehicle for reading and writing and self-expression. It helps with fluency and self-expression. It helps break down the barriers and walls.” 

Throughout the school year, Bertram joins his students and also writes poems to share with the class. He also compiles his third graders’ poems into keepsake books created in Microsoft Publisher for his students to take home. Last year, student Tanvi Gullapudi suggested that he should make his own book with all of his poems. 

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Taking the now fourth grade student’s advice, Bertram spent last summer gathering some of his best poems from all genres over the years and, in April, self-published said the paper to the pen, a collection of poems written throughout his teaching career. He will hold a special book signing and poetry reading at the South Plainfield Public Library next week. 

Bertram’s book features close to 40 works with fun and classroom-appropriate titles such as ‘Welcome to Room 20,’ ‘What Teachers Really Do,’ ‘’Things I’ve Learned in Third Grade,’ and ‘To the Lady That Does My Lesson Plans.’ In some of his poems, including ‘Inside Mr. B’s Stomach,’ he also mocks fun at himself and his love for snacks. 

According to Bertram, said the paper to the pens for teachers, students, or anyone who would like to ‘take a peek’ inside his classroom, otherwise known as the ‘B-Hive.’ “This is a culmination of all the poetry I have written in the classroom with my students. It’s like a peak inside my classroom,” he said, adding, “Many of the poems are the ideas I got from lessons [and] I feel this book captures the fun you can have in school and what a third grade class is like with Mr. B.”

The book’s title, said Bertram, is a play-on-words tribute to a similarly titled poem by his favorite poet Saul Williams and the book itself has a Shel Silverstein vibe. Throughout, there are original illustrations created by his 11-year-old daughter, Jamie, and Roosevelt art teacher Melanie Glowacki and well as drawings by several current and former students.

“I love Mr. B. and I believe in what he does as a teacher and was happy to collaborate with him,” said Glowacki. 

According to Bertram, the book would not have come to fruition without the support from close friends, family and colleagues, including Roosevelt teacher Sue Hyun, who helped with the page design, with tech support from colleagues AnnMarie Stoeckel, Christine Brandenburg, and Desiree Noland. Additionally, he credits former mentors Mike Chef-chik and Mary Ellen Martko for inspiring him and ‘molding him into the teacher he is today.’   

“This really was a team, family effort,” said Bertram. “It’s been a year and some change in the making.”

Bertram will read from and sign copies of his book said the paper to the pen at the South Plainfield Public Library on Thursday, May 23 at 5 p.m. 

“This is a really good, fun book that was born here in South Plainfield from the kids I had 20 years ago to those I have now,” he said. “I really hope the town and people from all the other schools and anyone who had me as a teacher comes out and support this.”

said the paper to the pen can be purchased online at Amazon.com. For more information on Mr. B and ‘Said the Paper to the Pen,’ email bigmikemrb@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @poet_teacher, Instagram @mr.bpoetry and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/saidthepapertothepen/

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