14 October 2010

A good day

I teach English at an independent school. Which means I also coach two teams, advise a group of students, and moderate several clubs and extracurricular activities. So maybe opening up this space just a few days before starting a new academic year was a bad idea. I mean, I knew there’d be times I’d let this place slide, but man-alive that was fast.

It’s easy to be frustrated as a high school teacher. As a poet who has always loved to read, it’s very easy to be frustrated as a high school teacher. Disillusioned. Disgruntled. Too often, students seem motivated only by grades, test scores, college admissions. Too often, students seemed bored, jaded, cynical. Too often, it seems the things that are important to me are silly to them. Outdated. Worthless.

But today, about twenty students showed up to an after-school meeting of our fledgling creative writing workshop. We spent a few minutes talking about the relationship between William Carlos Williams’s “The Great Figure” and Charles Demuth’s “I Saw the Figure Five in Gold.” Then they started to write their own poems in response to an Edward Hopper painting. They scribbled and scrawled, heads popping up so that wide eyes could absorb the image before their shoulders hunched back over their little desks.

After fifteen minutes, with soccer practice and a student council meeting demanding their attention, students began to trickle out of the room. But most of them lingered for a moment to talk about what they’d just done. With excitement in their voices, they compared what they’d written, traded their impressions of the painting, shared their plans to keep working on their poems. One of them asked if I’d email the image so they could keep writing about it. Others asked if they could share their poems at next week’s meeting. A few seemed not to want to leave.

It’s easy to be frustrated, but not today. Today, I was reminded of the boy in Albert Goldbarth’s poem “Shawl”: “he was discovering himself / to be among the tribe that reads.” Today, there was nothing practical on the line: no grades, no letters of recommendation, no prizes. Instead, these kids put themselves on the line by putting something on the page, and they seemed to discover the exhilaration that comes with finding yourself in a community of others who have chosen to do the same. 

Music at the moment: Old 97's, The Grand Theatre Volume One 


  1. Hey, Brian! Just found your blog. My lucky day! Hope you're well.