Monday, June 4, 2007

teaching poetry is fun, even for a class of one

Hey, did you know it's almost summer? And apparently here, in the great Pacific Northwest where it has been sunny & warm for nearly two whole weeks, "almost" means "already." My creative writing class has been averaging 10 students since the Friday before Memorial Day. Ten. Out of 24. It would be a little insulting if...well, it is insulting. I try to look like I don't take much personally, and I even say that out loud occasionally, but it's a lie. I crave validation, and nothing is less validating than watching a student pass by the door to my classroom and take off down the road. Well, yes there is something. It's that same student returning to class with 15 minutes remaining to crunch Flav-O-Ice, chat with his friends, and say blandly to my face he doesn't have poems to turn in and isn't working on any. That is three times offensive - the horror of his nutritionally abysmal snack, the distracting of people who were actually trying to be creative without their slacker friend, and the indifferent attitude toward what we're doing in class.

I do very much enjoy (<-- this would garner me a "1" in word choice, but I'm tired right now and not trying very hard) my students who stay engaged. And that's not to say I only like the ones who write the best - there are some who keep showing up, produce mediocre work, and rarely offer an opinion on anything (or, conversely, question everything I say & do). It's that showing up and producing that I'm hoping for - having a class full of people who already love writing and do it well would be delightful, but a bit boring for me. I am challenged by those who are struggling to choose exceptional words and develop powerful images; how can I help without squashing creativity and drive? And I appreciate the ones who ask me hard questions - why we're reading a certain piece, what's the point of a particular assignment, are my grades really fair? Teachers should be prepared to investigate their lessons and motives, and admit their biases. I try very, very hard (more 1 point words) to not show contempt for the jokers who shamelessly avoid coming to class or using their time wisely. In fact, every one of them (Flav-O-Ice boy included) has written some amazingly provocative stuff now & again, and I've made a point of saying so.

At least 30 times a day I try to remember that being a teenager is difficult. They're almost grown up, and many of their parents treat them that way to the extreme, yet they still feel insecure about who they really are and what they want to accomplish. And here I am everyday, irritating them by my very presence because I am a constant reminder that although they want to be thought of as 'dank' (a new word that means 'cool' - I only know this because it shows up in 80% of the poetry I get), which is defined by being apathetic to school/writing/praise, they are really bright & capable clever people. Being told that makes them feel simultaneously pleased (though privately, beneath a blank face) and aggravated, because it is something they know they should pursue; it gives them a sense of responsibility. And that's hard. Life is hard. But summer's almost here...