Saturday, April 3, 2010

This is Just to Say, Hello Flying Octopi

Everything about teaching is tough. Most of it turns out in a completely different way than you expect. You have to be ready for a flying octopus. The unexpected. You plan and plan and then everything goes in a different direction. Students hear what they want. They behave in ways you could not expect. What you thought was clear, is jumbled and muddy. Perhaps that with experience, planning becomes more fluid and flexible to allow for these unexpected turns. You eventually prepare for flexibility, for the unexpected, for the flying octopi.

I planned a fun poetry lesson. I think it went over pretty well. It did not begin as I had expected. One of my students, the one from last week (who is not actually) named Samantha, was reluctant to come with me this week. Last week she would have jumped at the chance to come write poetry with me. She was the reason I offered to plan a simultaneous poetry lesson, while my friend Jeremy taught fiction. Well, this week, Samantha's friend was back. And initially her friend did not want to come with me. I managed to convince them both that poetry was going to be so much fun.

Then, again to my initial surprise, throughout the lesson, Samantha behaved strangely. She was put off by the praise I gave other students and seemed defensive if someone wrote a poem similar to hers (we were all using the same prompt, so they were bound to have some commonalities). She would accuse them of copying and at one point crumpled up a poem she wrote and threw it behind her. In short, she liked the one-on-one attention from last week, but got jealous this week. I should have seen that one coming.

I decided I could not give into her behavior. I praised her as much as I praised the other students. She really is exceptional at writing weirdly mature image-rich poetry. Another student has a particular gift for haikus. Samantha's friend has a knack for using grand, sweeping, "poetic" language in her poems. Other student poems were sweet, fun and playful. I praised each student for what they did well and encouraged each to try something new. I did my best.

Another surprise for me was the students' interest in performance; these poets are particularly interested in reading poems out loud to one another. One student even memorized the poem we studied, "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams. It makes sense in hindsight, since this school system has a big focus on the arts, music and theater in general. I hope I can tailor the lessons to their interests more and more each week. Perhaps we can all try to memorize one verse of a poem too. I would also like to bring in a performance poet or a slam poet to do a reading for this group. I think they would love it. I also want to try to do a poetry exercise where we take the students outside and write poems on the sidewalk with chalk. As long as they are writing, I am fine with whatever aspect of poetry they want to explore.

I think that parts of this preparation, teaching and reflection process with get easier. They also seem to peak at different times of the year; when starting new projects or getting new students. Any changes or shifts. I will keep this in mind when planning future lessons. I will also think about perhaps trying to catch those flying octopi.

Cool image taken from Bone Singer Art.
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