Jennica in New Mexico.

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 01 2012

Poetry. Yikes.

Friday was the last teaching day of summer school—I survived! Every week (and even day!) was so different: some went by quick, some went by way too slow, some were a lot of fun… and some, like this week, were really difficult.

This week we started the third and final persuasive essay—a literary response, basically interpreting a piece of literature, determining what you think it means, and then defending your claim to your readers.  I had the kids read one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou.  We read “The Rock Cries Out to Us Today.”  Teaching poetry is SO hard.  First of all… if you are going to teach a poem, you have to interpret and find all the literary devices yourself, which thankfully I enjoy.  Then… you have to try and figure out how you are going to teach all that.  THEN…you have to teach your students how to write about it all.  Luckily, in the fall I’ll have more than a day or two to teach this!  Doing all of this in two days is DAUNTING.  We’ve had the fire alarm pulled two times during summer school, both during my class.  As I struggled through this lesson I remember thinking…This would be a really great time for some kid to pull the fire alarm. 


I’ve found that I really like tricking my students… I told them we were going to have a guest come in and read the poem to us and that it was actually Maya Angelou herself.  The kids all looked so surprised.  I took out my laptop and pulled up Maya Angelou reading the poem on YouTube.  I thought it was funny.

The Rock Cries Out to Us Today

They seemed to be enjoying the poem.  At the end, one student raised their hand and asked, “So… What is our last essay on?”  I nonchalantly pointed to the poem and responded, “This.”  Looks of horror and disgust filled the room.  One student said, “We have to write… about THIS?!”    So needless to say… it was a rough two days trying to explain the poem to the students, trying to get them to think about what it meant to them, and then trying to get them to combine those in writing.

Despite the challenge, Friday was a really good day.  Most of the classes were playing review games to prepare for Monday’s final exam, but my class was an hour of writing time. One student asked, “We’re playing a game, right?? I said, “Nope. This is writing class….why don’t you guess what we’re going to do today.”  Sighs and grunts all around.  After a few minutes though, everyone started writing.  I think my favorite thing is a quiet classroom of students writing.  During this time I was able to walk around and conference with students individually about their writing and how they were doing.  Considering none of them had ever written a literary response essay before, I was SO impressed with what I was reading.  They were getting it!

One student (the one who wrote that he didn’t like writing at all, also the one who receives multiple consequences a day for not paying attention and distracting other students by kicking them) pulled me aside and said, “Miss, I actually like writing now.”  In the moment I knew I was doing something right.  All of the tears of frustration, all the nights with less than 4 hours of sleep… they weren’t in vain.


On another note… My school is in the beautiful city of Goodyear, Arizona.  Sadly, I only get to see it from the inside of the bus.  Thought I’d share it with you all.

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Learning and teaching…mostly learning.

New Mexico
High School

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