This may have been the best day in class ever…

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.



Filed under observation

5 responses to “This may have been the best day in class ever…

  1. PJ

    Your best post ever

  2. Sara

    Please share with me your talent!

  3. I confess that when I first read this I had a very selfish reaction. I thought, “Wow. Kim is a way better English teacher than I am.” But then I remembered the lesson God’s been teaching me about the dangers of comparison. So I stopped comparing and started admiring. Admiring how passionate you are about your subject. Admiring how creative your lessons are. Admiring the trust you’ve built with your students. Admiring your slam poem and your gift with words.

    I confess that I often feel self-conscious as an English teacher because I didn’t study it in college. Until this new school I’m at, I’d always been a history teacher- my first passion. However, I love the power of language and desire to become better at inspiring my kids to have this passion too. It seems you have and I admire that.

    So thanks for sharing; for inspiring me to be a better English teacher; for reminding me the power I have as their teacher; for showing me that teaching English is so much more than just studying literature and grammar.

    • Hey Katie,
      I don’t get to teach English..I would so love to do so. I have taught it before, as I have Social Studies. I get to teach Economics still. You better believe I have interpreted that a bit to survive the boredom: lots of global economic and justice issue stuff: they know so much more than the average bear about Africa now. ( I love South Africa – trying to get over soon.) I think you would be proud. The kids love the global perspective and really learn some important things.

      So no I don’t teach English, you see, I have these stupid business/training degrees. It’s a long story.

      I did the poetry exercise in a computer class that I teach. I get so tired of techie stuff. I am not a techie. So, I give us all a break now and again, especially me.
      I love having you read…and I feel that I know you a little bit from reading your blog. You are the fun English teacher. I know that those kids love you.

      I think that you would be a scream! I wish I was in your class.

      If my grammar stinks, I’m sorry. Feel free to edit in the comments.


  4. Ha!! No stinkin way you’re not an English teacher! I know you mentioned the computer class but I assumed that was just one and the rest were English classes. I still haven’t learned my lesson about what “ass-uming” does to me. I love that you teach so much about Africa in your Economics class- I’m sure those lessons will make a much more meaningful impression. Also, I am terrible at grammar. It’s awful because people occasionally ask me grammar questions and I’m usually clueless.

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