Saturday, September 16, 2006

Slam I Am

I really enjoy teaching math. I like working on math problems myself, and I find reading about the history of mathematics to be fascinating, but I'm no mathematician. When I first got interested in education, I definitely saw myself as more of a humanities person - probably English. It was actually subbing at DCP (before I taught there full time) that convinced me to become a math teacher instead. Our freshmen come in knowing very little about anything academic, to be quite honest, and watching them struggle through writing a simple sentence, I knew that English class (at least for the first 2 or 3 years) would not be about reading great books and having deep class discussion. Their math abilities were in comparable disarray, but it seemed like a more manageable problem - teaching math is much more linear than English. I've since learned that, even when students struggle with basic oral and written communication, it's still possible for the classes and assignments to be quite interesting. I like pushing the students on their numeracy, problem solving, and critical thinking skills, but I definitely miss being able to connect with students on a different level - i.e. hearing their thoughts about life, reading what they write about their families and friends, and so forth. I'm too busy pushing them to the next math standard.

Last year, through a partnership with MACLA, a local Latin American arts and culture venue (if you live in South Bay, I highly recommend you click the link and check it out!), another teacher and I began the DCP Slam Poetry team. MACLA hosts the South Bay Teen Slam League, and they offer free Friday poetry workshops to high school students. We had a few students last year who were regulars, and even competed in one or two slams, but we never had enough momentum to really get off the ground. Yesterday, we began the new season, and we took over about 15 students. The room was packed and the students really had a good time. It's an uncensored workshop and it's hosted by local poets (not musty old teachers). Though the actual "teaching of poetry" part of the workshop is not always the strongest, it gives the students a great venue for saying whatever the hell they want to say. I bring the students there, and I usually stay and listen to what goes on (brainstorms and free-writes, improv activities, read-alouds, etc.), but I don't participate at all. They get into it, and soon I'm not there - they begin to talk like they do outside of school. I like being able to not monitor what they are saying and to just listen. My goal this year is to actually engage in the same writing activities that they do (they always asked me why I wasn't writing, and what could I say?). So we'll see.. if I actually end up writing a good poem maybe I'll post it. I hope that enough students stay interested in it, and that the team will have enough momentum to move forward on its own. It's an amazing thing to see how empowering it is to those who muster the courage to get up on stage and (for lack of a less cliche description) bare their souls. When they finally perform, they come off the stage crackling with energy and life (which is not necessarily the normal state of being for a teenager!)

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