“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood” -T.S. Eliot

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Yes, I’m alive. It’s crazy how many people have said “you haven’t blogged in a while!” when they see me. So I’m back with an update. We have started our Poetry unit! As expected, I heard many grumbles and words like “I hate poetry. It’s so stupid and pointless.” Welllllll, I think we have started to get through to them and they are finding things they like about it which is so fun to watch.

Side note: Although I definitely DO care more about the people my students become than the scores on the tests they take, I have to say that I just finished grading their final exams on Night… Out of all three of my classes, I only had ONE student not pass (and just barely), three students got C’s, and about 60 students got B’s and about 30 students got A’s! I couldn’t be more proud of them. This wasn’t an “easy” test, either. It consisted of multiple choice, matching, defining, and short answer questions. WOOOOO! THEY’RE AMAZING!

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But anyway, back to poetry. So we started off by watching some “slam poetry” videos which is performed, spoken poetry. I feel like this really reeled them in. They saw how dedicated and emotional people are with their poems. The first poem we watched was Gina Loring’s “Somewhere There is a Poem” :

Students seemed to like this one and realized that poetry is a wonderful outlet. It sparked a great discussion about self-expression and ways to handle stress, sadness, anger, happiness, frustration, etc… Although this was probably the “least liked” poem of the bunch, most students seemed to enjoy in and a few could definitely relate.

The second poem we watched was “Dreams are Illegal in the Ghetto” by Twin Poets. This one was a little bit different because it was performed by twin brothers at the same time:

The students liked this one (although I thought they might find it confusing) because many could relate. Many students come from places where their dreams have been shot down and they have felt hopeless about ever getting out of this city to chase their dreams. I’m glad that they saw themselves through these poets and were able to make connections.

The third poem we watched was “Knock, Knock” by Daniel Beaty. This was probably the most powerful and inspiring poem for us and they even asked me to play it again (we’ve seen it five times now):

When we finished watching it, we all said “PHEEEW!” because it was such an intense experience. This was the most relatable to students because many of them said “I can really relate to that because my dad wasn’t there for me either.” It breaks my heart to hear things like that from these kids that I love so much, but I was again thankful that they could relate to this and they were pretty darn inspired.

Next, we watched “Hands” by Sarah Kay, which had a very opposite subject “Knock, Knock.” This is the one I relate to the most and it gave me an opportunity to talk to the class about the relationship that my dad and I have, which they loved hearing about:

Through this experience, I realize even more that I am so lucky to have both parents in my life and to have their immense support. Most of my students don’t even have that. They get themselves off to school, get themselves home, make their own dinner, and go to bed without ever seeing their parents. I couldn’t imagine. So they had a hard time relating to this poem, but they still enjoyed it nonetheless.

The last poem we watched is one we could all relate to. It’s by one of my favorite poets, Taylor Mali (and he’s a teacher, too!) and he’s somewhat mocking how this generation speaks. This is called, “Like, You Know?”:

This was a good way to end our discovery of slam poetry. It was light-hearted and sarcastic and had us all cracking up. I asked the students if they think I’m in the same generation as them (which they found out my age through this conversation, dang it!) and thanks to Google, we found out that we are all part of the same generation, generation “Y.” It’s weird to be so close in age to my students but also pretty fun at the same time!

Also, I was observed by my supervisor and my mentor teacher last week and it went really well! I love my mentor teacher, but he has a hard time giving compliments. But when we sat down formally with my supervisor, it all came out and made me cry. He told my supervisor “I wish you could be here every day to see the connections Caitlin has with these kids. They adore her.” and he gave me scores on my formal observation that aren’t usually given during a first observation. My supervisor observed me and told me how much she’s already seen my grow as a teacher. I’m so inspired and so thankful that both of them see the passion I have for education and for these students.

On this same day, we had a bit of a catch-up period and some of the students went to the lab with my mentor teacher and the rest stayed in the class with me. As soon as they left for the lab, I had a line of students saying “Miss Gray, read this poem I wrote last night!” (They’re writing poetry in their free time, WHAT!?) And asking me if I have any other poetry formats they can try. I was blown away. And after that, three girls came up to me and said “Miss Gray, we don’t want you to leave.” I said, “I’m not leaving yet!” And they said “But you are soon. And we want you to stay the whole year. And then teach 11th grade. And then 12th,” followed by the rest of the class saying “YEEEEAH!” …Man, I love them. It was hard to leave my middle schoolers last term, but it’s going to be even harder to leave the high schoolers this term. I will never, ever forget them. So let’s just say that this was the best teaching day I’ve had thus far. MY. HEART.

Today, we started a documentary called “Louder than a Bomb” which follows four high school students preparing for a poetry slam competition that happens every year in Chicago. The students seem to be really into it and inspired by the fact that people their same age can write and perform such powerful poetry.

A student that I have really connected with this term through music blew me away today. We always talk about metal music, tattoos, and piercings, but today was different. I pulled him aside because he hasn’t turned in any work all term, and eventually it came out that he has a child. It’s so hard to react to something like that in a calm way. But it was a learning experience and my eyes have been opened to his life. It’s hard to imagine a 15 year old becoming a father and juggling school at the same time. We talked a lot about doing this for his daughter and for himself, and it definitely brought some tears forward. I am so thankful for this experience and for him opening up to me.

Overall, things are going so well in the classroom. I don’t have time for much else but that’s actually okay with me. I am working on completing my long and tedious work sample and I will be so relieved once I’m done. But for now, it’s massive amounts of paperwork for me! It’s cool because my students know all about my work sample and the classes I’m taking so they are constantly asking me “What part are you working on now?” I love them. One of my students also bought me HELLO KITTY STAMPS TO STAMP THEIR PAPERS WITH!

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My heart is full and I love the connections that are being made each and every day and the relationships that are growing. I wonder how I got so lucky to have these students in my life. LOOOOOOOOOOVE.

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