This may have been the best day in class ever…well, one of them at least. I have a tenth grade computer class. We have Mac laptops and have a ball creating fun projects with them. I have a curious, engaged group of kids in this class. I think the world of them. So, Monday I tried something I have not done before: slam poetry. I found the very best Def Jam style poets on YouTube and played performances for the kids. ( I picked the best where language would not get us all in big trouble – hopefully.) Almost all of them were amazed and spellbound. A few were nervous – it was real and raw and hard not to feel along with the poets.
These folks were unbelievably talented. I told the kids before hand that they would have to respond in their blogs to the poetry. I didn’t tell them “in like kind.” But, as they watched it became really clear to me that I needed to push just a little and make the assignment.
A few really struggled, coming to me again and again for some release – an alternate assignment. I gave them ideas ( they had their own), I framed it less threatening, I assured them that they would do fine on their grade – that I was looking for effort not style and syncopation.
But, that wasn’t the problem…the problem was the stuff coming up in them. It was frightening them. As they listened to those smiths of word, all those muddled feelings began to separate and distill. They didn’t have too little to address, they had an enormity.
I prayed a lot under my breath, I could sense so many needing to finally say some things that were far more terrifying unspoken.
So they wrote and told me stories I don’t think they had ever heard their voices tell. It was a sacred moment.
I read incredible tales of hurt and abandonment and confusion. I read things that they probably don’t know they wrote.
I sat down before class today and wrote them a “slam poem” back. I told them how they had trusted me and that there was no greater gift than that. Then I read this aloud to them.
I hear your knock and shuffle against my door, a door I have locked… to keep you from my crying, crying as I’m reading something I so want, need to read…that someone I care deeply, they have opened their life to me, their hope to me…
I see you pour in all loud and silly and holding high those white little time machines, high over one another’s heads and dipping under and squeezing around…one another… sometimes now 10 years together, so tightly packed, their breath breezing against your hair, in line, standing still – as you can, stopped at the water fountain or the corner of the green wall or some other randomly mandatory demarcation.
Your familiarity is great… too, too great to be of much use – “Oh, they are just this and she is just that. You know, how he is, how she never…”
But I see you, I don’t know the color of the lunch box you carried three years or the jacket you wore all through elementary too large and then one day all of a sudden too tight to zip. I don’t remember the color of the peace symbols and cursive style signatures you drew all over your English folder, I don’t remember how you, everyday made Mr./Mrs. fume and call your name out…I never pushed you on the swing too high or chased you round the building or grabbed your arm excited to see you in the hall, harder than I meant to.
I don’t know you… but I look to, everyday – I march in here, still tired from all the things I did not get done last night, again…looking for you.
I search your eyes…so glued on those screens for some acknowledgement of your person, your significance…some hello, some poorly typed rendering of your name…posted, published for all to see. I watch for the flicker of the real you, peering from behind the fear of being…all too familiar or worse, unacknowledged.
I see you…sometimes starkly and I want to rush at you with words that might somehow hold that place in you, and not let you recede into your age and adolescent anxiety.
I see you, holding back my tears in recognition of who you are, will be, if you will only dare see as well.
Then I gave them their papers back full of my encouragement, comments and responses to all that they had shared. Kids eat up personal comments. They like them better than free Snickers Bars. They told me so.
The kids at my school, a good school with good kids from good homes are lonely and scared and pretty dang scarred up. Their stories hurt my heart. They could have written about anything, any subject was fair game. But after seeing what I respect so very much, passionate questioning and expression, they took my invitation to do likewise, bit their lips against tears and wrote some of the best things I have ever read, and trusted somebody. Over and over they asked, “You won’t let anyone else see will you, Mrs. Sullivan, just you, right? I am putting this in your hand, just your’s.” Their eyes were sometimes full.
Later today, I watched a Dave Ramsey video with a Financial Peace Class that I teach. He said something about teaching online college courses. I joked a little about the huge economic incentive to do that. But, soon as it left my lips I repented…There is no amount of money that I would take for today.