Thursday, December 16, 2010
Back in the Saddle
Now that I am fully supporting as a poet, editor, and teaching artist, my cycles are revealing themselves. The summers have become a period of reading and writing, for the most part. I can spend time on the front porch or the back deck, especially because my wireless router provides mobility. Autumn is when I teach a discussion seminar, Viewing the World through Changing Lenses, for the Renee Crown Honors Program at Syracuse University and generally a course or two for the Downtown Writer’s Center. Then, in late fall, my work in schools begins and I am back on the road through the spring blossoming.
This fall I had a terrific experience with all three classes while I also completed the revision and finer edits with Quraysh Ali Lansana on our book, Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy, & Social Justice in Classroom & Community, which will be available from Teachers & Writers Collaborative in February 2011. The Honors course included nine very talented college students with a tremendous commitment to themselves and the learning process. The DWC courses were equally fulfilling; both for adult writers, one was an intro to poetry and the second was an advanced workshop for poets who have engaged in the DWC PRO Certification Program. Since I live by the motto, “teach what you want to learn,” immersion in the craft and facilitating the exploration of two groups of writers gave me reason to keep myself sharp at all times. Best part is that, now that Our Difficult Sunlight is completed, I can go back to the pile of poems that have been sorely neglected and perhaps finish several book projects.
I also had a quick turnaround trip to Orlando early Thanksgiving week to join a panel of remarkable colleagues to present a post-conference intensive workshop for the National Council of Teachers of English. This day focused on the power of writers in the classroom and it was an honor to be invited to share my perspective as an independent teaching artist. I do wish I had been able to attend more of the conference because there were countless workshops I would have loved to sit in on as well as network with teachers while soaking up the Disney brainwashing.
After Thanksgiving, I packed up the suitcase and the car trunk and hit the highway for my first residency of the 2010 – 2011 school year. What an amazing 10 days with middle schoolers. I was invited into a wider variety of classes this year, my sixth in visiting this school. I was with literacy classes to support stronger reading and writing skills, standard English classes, enriched English classes with advanced students, and several self-contained special education classes. We did so much together. Some of the students worked with my premise of reading poems as if engaged in a video game. Other classes were writing memoir poems utilizing a framework of “Six-Word Memoirs.” Still others were creating persona poems, one class even developed their personas in response to completing S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. This also meant I finally read the novel myself so I could ask pertinent questions. Although this novel is often assigned reading for young people, my secondary education preceded its popularity. But now I have still another tool in my work.
I get to be so creative in this arena. I become not just educator or poet but Game Master, storyteller, confidant, even inspiration sometimes. The only part I don’t love is disciplinarian but there are times when it is necessary. Boundaries must be maintained for the good work to happen. I will outline a few of my favorite moments with these young minds next week. For now, I am nursing the cold that followed me home through the snow last Friday, the general outcome of my return to K-12 classrooms year after year. It is such a rewarding career, one that took me most of my adulthood to achieve. I feel valuable and fulfilled, and quite sniffly.