School Visit in Providence! One of the great highlights of the month.
As you may know, I used to teach middle-school English, so the chance to be back in a middle-school English classroom was like a little slice of heaven with the smell of grape gum.
The teacher suggested that before I start my presentation, I do a quick go-around with the students. I was a little hesitant, since there were 30 of them and I worried that they might get bored of listening to each other, but it ended up breaking the ice and giving me a great sense of the kids. Since the presentation was called The Journey of a Book, I had already planned to ask who in the class considered themselves artists of any kind, so I did that in the go-around, and I loved hearing how kids identified themselves—writer, drawer, comic-book illustrator, rapper. A couple of them asked, “Is playing soccer an art?” or “is reading an art?” and I said, “If you think it is, it is.” I also gave props to the kids who said, “I’m not an artist,” because hey, not everyone has to be an artist, but it takes courage to say that when everyone else is declaring their major.
One of my favorite parts of the presentation, and I hope to integrate more elements like this, came when I talked about revising. This school, like the ones I taught at, heartily emphasizes revising, but as I discussed with some teachers recently, kids often have trouble getting enough perspective on their work to understand how to change it. (And why do I say “kids”? Adults have this problem all the time! I am one of them!)
(pic of me sharing my writer’s notebook. It’s not just for kids!)
To bring them into the world of revision, I told them about two different chapters I’d initially thought were so great but came to see as greatly in need of change. One scene in which Sachi watched a movie with her sister became Sachi picking her up from after-school; the scene where Marina confesses to Sachi that she accidentally dislocated her sister’s arm the summer before was eliminated completely, in favor of a new emotional moment between the two girls.
When I asked the class, “Do you know why I made those changes?” their answers were spot-on. They really got how a scene with a movie could render interactions lifeless, and that a confession about the summer before wasn’t as relevant as progress in the current activity. I loved that I could draw them into the process of seeing something that I once hadn’t been able to see myself.
Both groups asked thought-provoking questions, too, and I’m sorry I don’t remember them better, but I know I liked them, because my host teacher gently teased me for saying, “That’s a good question” over and over. I do remember, though, when I got to ask them questions, and learned that one of them was writing a play based on his group of friends, about a group of heroes who fights to save the US from people who want to turn it back into a monarchy. How creative is that? Another girl won an award for a fairy tale about…shoot! I can’t remember. But it was great.
I continue to feel at sea over the fact that my writing career has nudged aside my career as a full-time teacher. I’m still not sure how that one’s going to end. However, I’m so glad that the one is able to feed the other, because I felt very full after my day at that Providence school.