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  • February 25th, 2010 | 9:10 PM
At-risk teens poetry class 2/session 3

Today was the third and final session of trying to teach poetry to a group of at-risk teens.

Yes, final.

We tried. We pulled a few students in that seemed like they might respond but then other kids came in that really didn't belong there. Doors opened and shut. Kids hollered obscenities at each other. We had some stare downs. The teacher sat with a couple of the girls and kept them chatting because the alternative was that they would be egging the boys on to misbehave. There was one girl who was in my face with her antagonism, informing me in no uncertain words that she didn't know me, she didn't trust me, and she wasn't going to share anything with me. I said fine, write that down.

She did not. And yet. And yet.

There were a few who tried. They put down a word and then another and when I asked them to expand on it, to give me more, they did. Not great brilliant heart wrenching poems but that was okay. They did what I asked and they did more than the teacher or the principal expected they would.

There was the boy who wrote about his pit bull puppy and how sweet it smelled and how it tried to growl but it couldn't.

There was the girl who wrote about the sad sky.

There was the girl who said she was going to make an impact on the world.

There was the boy who said all marriages are bad but music, music is good, as he tap tap tapped his fingers on the edge of the desk.

But then there were the ones who poked holes in their papers instead of writing on them. And then the boy who said he'd been on the outs too long and he needed to go back to jail. The one who said it was safer in jail than it was on the outside.

In the end, after talking with the teacher and the principal we decided that it just wasn't a good fit. Not now. These kids all have something to say. You can almost see the words, the stories bubbling up in them but the guys have to maintain their macho attitude and writing and sharing their writing means asking them to put that guard down.

When it was time for me to go the kids were out in the yard having lunch. I walked to talk to each of the one on one, to tell them that I wouldn't be back. They were surprised and yet they weren't. When I said I wasn't coming back they said, "Oh no," but then they shrugged a shoulder or nodded or said, "It's because we're bad, right?"

And I told them YOU are not bad. It's hard to write and it's harder still to write and share when you have classmates all around you telling you you're stupid for even trying. I told them that words were a great tool for getting their stories told and that I hoped they would continue to try and write. And then I said goodbye.

The girl, the girl who was excited about maybe seeing her work on the walls of the museum ran after me.

"Thank you," she said. Then she surprised me by giving me a hug.

Tears filled my eyes as I walked by to my car.

It was enough to almost make me change my mind but I know this was the right decision.

Tiny seeds were tossed down and maybe a few will take root. But someone else will have to tend the garden.
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.


( 11 comments — Leave comment )
February 26th, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
Susan, you did good.
February 26th, 2010 10:46 am (UTC)
There are only so many times you can try without losing yourself entirely - and that's no way to reach a group.
February 26th, 2010 12:22 pm (UTC)
I was so afraid it would turn out like this. But you tried and did not fail. They failed you. Save your energy for the next group, the one that will respond.
February 26th, 2010 01:14 pm (UTC)
Seeds do amazing things, Susan. Kudos to you for planting so many.
February 26th, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC)
"They" didn't fail you. "They" are not an entity. The girl who hugged you didn't fail you, and you didn't fail her. You weren't able to do as much good as you wanted to, but when can we ever?

It's just another learning experience, for everybody. Not the kind that can be graded, and not the kind that everybody's going to learn the same thing.

Swallow it, and go on.
February 26th, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
Sorry this didn't work out. I love that the one girl hugged you and said thank you. Next time . . .
February 26th, 2010 01:25 pm (UTC)
You have a beautiful attitude about this, and I think you are so right about the seeds. Right now my garden is sitting under 6 feet of drifted snow, so it's difficult to believe in seeds--but this entry shines with that faith. Thank you.
February 27th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC)
This brought a tear to my eye as I read about the girl who gave you a hug. I really admire you for putting yourself out there and trying over and over again to make this work. Sometimes, it's not meant to be--at least for now. Try not to feel too bad. You will continue to contribute to the good in the world in other ways.
February 27th, 2010 06:06 am (UTC)
You did good just by trying. It's all you can do, give it your best, and that's what you did. If you reached just one kid, that's more than if you never went at all. Some were affected but it might be awhile before they even realize it. You are awesome.
February 27th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
Hi Susan, it's me again, Becky
and of course, you know me, I am crying right now after reading your last post. It didn't go as you had hoped, but be it ever so small, you had a positive impact on their lives that they can't erase. You did good and I thank you for trying. See you soon. Miss you.
March 8th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks for showing the potential and the heartache in working with at-risk children.

I have a former student who, at thirteen, could barely read and write. She was a real problem in class. There are so many times I think of all the ways I failed her. Then there are the small moments I remember when she'd proudly read her very basic stories to the class. The courage, defiance, and confusion in that child, it breaks my heart.

Thank you for understanding and posting here.
( 11 comments — Leave comment )

Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.

Susan Taylor Brown

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