I was asked to share one of my favourite teaching days today. I carry four or five around in my heart but rarely have I been required to write out the details of such moments. I can tell you it’s much easier to look back one those days through the lens of time. It offers greater clarity and gratitude. I must confess that I’m not always so aware in the thick of it all. How many of us really are? When you are in the midst of that type of day, do you know when it’s really, really great? Are you that present in your life that you can be living and reflecting simultaneously? I’m working on it but not quite there. However, I’m pretty sure I had a niggly feeling it was pretty awesome day but I needed space and time for a real sense of the magic in it all.
I may have serendipitously stumbled upon one of the best days of my teaching career just three years ago. Not a lights turn green as you roll up to the intersection-coffee is fresh and warm-first parking spot available-kind of good day, but rather one that is nothing short of transformative and magical. A day that may come so rarely and one that begs for reflection in order to see its true value. I do fear that even upon close retelling, some of that magic will be missed, a comment not heard, a line of poetry unsaid, a student’s thoughts not fully captured. But even with those fears facing me, I still feel a call to ruminate and reflect.
The day began with a simple email from a student. She asked if I might consider showing a slam poem video on YouTube. The student covered all her bases by suggesting that we could review technique and also explore the class view on the poet. The title of the piece was Suli Breaks’ Why I Hate School But Love Education. Unknowingly, this became the intro to our poetry unit and the day that will be stamped on my teaching passport forever.
There was something housed in that request, in that video, in that room and in the darkness that spun magic. Students connected with that video, the message and the medium. We talked for 80 minutes. We laughed. We cried. Okay, I cried. Just me. But there were tears. We talked about what we love about learning and what we hate about school. I heard voices that had been silent. I heard voices that had been angry. I heard their voices. I can still close my eyes right now and immediately see the young man who pulled me aside at the end of class and told me he wanted to be a poet. He said he didn’t know it was a job. Until this day. I see the angry girl who never handed a thing in, who never spoke to me, never looked me in the eye, who never showed up…. I saw her hang back by the door and shove something in my hands. Her book of poetry. She placed her ideas and dreams in my hands with explicit directions to NOT SHOW ANYONE and give it back by noon.
See? Stuff of dreams. My kids were connecting and building and dreaming over poetry. The poetry had brought them comfort and connection. I always tell the students that poetry finds you and calls out to you when you need it most. Poetry has always fortuitously found me and it had found them too on that day. As we were sharing in the love of words together, I finished the class with a cherished line of poetry that has brought me great solace over the years. David Whyte’s poem entitled “Sweet Darkness” has a line that resonates with me,
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Ever so often a moment becomes magical, transformative and reminds you why you were meant to be on the earth. This day reminds that poetry can bring you alive and can be so large and welcoming.