24 February 2005

Adventures in Middle School


Today the guidance counselor informend me that the kids think I'm one of the two "most stylin'" teachers in the school. Yes!

Dale: I wrote about a red car with a big yellow S on it. I wrote about how I'll drive around and everyone will say, "Look at that S-car go!"

TT: Ms. Backes, have you ever been to New Orleans?
Me: Yes.
Buddy: Have you been EVERYWHERE?
Me: No.
Dale: Have you been to.... Chicago?
Me: Yes.
Brad: Have you been to New York?
Me: Yes.
Dale: Have you been to Canada?
Me: Yes.
Dale: Did people sit in cottages and eat cheese and say "eh!"?
Me: What??

Girls: Ms. Backes, what socks are you wearing today?
Me: Oh, this is very exciting. You've never seen these before!
Girls: Oh, they're so cute!
Lizzil: Look at my socks!
Karen: Look at my socks!
Aylea: My socks are just white today.
Me: BO-ring!
Mr. K: Do you think you'll ever match up?
Me: No -- we should all get matching socks. That would be so great!
Lizzil: Ooh, we should!
Me: You guys have warped my brain. Now I think about you every morning when I'm getting dressed. What socks should I wear today?
Karen: Me too.
Lizzil: Me too!
Me: Next year will be so sad. No one will care about what socks I'm wearing.
Lizzil: We will! We'll come visit. We'll ditch class to come ask what socks you're wearing! We'll flunk 8th grade so we can stay with you and see your socks!


2nd period.

Me: Okay, we're about to run out of time, so are there any other questions about the sentences?
Andrew: Yes. Are they edible?
Me: No..... but they are editable!


In preparation for tomorrow's "Introduction to Meter & Scansion" lesson, I pulled out the (in)famous Almost But Not Quite Complete... poetry book, and was struck by how much time and energy went into writing a book about poetry for no real reason at all, just that I was 18, just that I loved poetry, just that I was meeting weekly with a bunch of sixth graders who thought I was pretty cool. Mostly: for the love of poetry, for the love of kids. A different person wrote this book, more innocent, less guarded. Someone who didn't know exactly how a sestina worked, someone who thought illustrating the word "paradox" with two kissing ducks (a pair...) was the funniest thing in the world.

On the back of one of the pages I found are pictures of New Horizons High School, the old place downtown. Pictures of the room we painted with poetry, my funny angsty students and I. The pictures struck me in the chest, thrummed me like a harp, and I sat, studying them, for a long time. Searching for clues of what we were, of who we were, as a class, at that time. We painted poetry on the walls! How beautiful and how bold! Looking back, I am half in love with the person I was, how brave and how determined, how sure.

What I remember is the excitement we all had in the project, how it came from the students complaining of how ugly the little room was, how everyone else at school was envious of my class then. Everyone wanted to paint poetry on those walls, but only my students got to, and somehow our project became bigger than just us; it was a community quilt, a whole far greater than the sum of any parts. I look at these pictures and I marvel at how carefully one student printed "The Raven" in such beautiful, gothic script, remember how excited Eric was to find the dirtiest poem he could for the wall (ee cummings' "may i feel") and how I laughed.

Did the class teach those kids anything that would show up on a standardized test? I doubt it. But that's not what was important to me at the time, and it's not what's important to me now. There is no question in my mind that those kids will always remember how they got to paint poetry on the walls, because it was so strange, and wonderful, and wild. I believe they gained a stronger belief in themselves, gained even just a tiny increase in the value they gave to their own ideas, their own beliefs, their own voices. I believe it helped them; I believe it changed them. I believe I made a difference, and I believe it was important.

That brave and determined and beautiful teacher is still a part of me. Even as I bow to increased pressure from the administration to teach to the test, even as I cave and give the fifth standardized test of the year, I believe I make a difference, tiny but sure, and I believe that's important.

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