A Phillie Teacher

I was a starry-eyed teacher from New Jersey. Now I work for Philadelphia Public Schools.

The Lesson that Taught Me about my Students

Posted by aphillieteacher on May 9, 2010

I work with at-risk inner city kids. Most are on the brink of dropping out; my challenge is to engage them enough in lessons that they not only learn something, they might decide to stay in school.

When it was time to teach poetry I went to youtube to see if I could find anything worthwhile. Never did I expect to find a treasure like “Knock Knock” by Daniel Beatty:

I counted on Beatty’s spoken performance to catch the attention of poor readers; the plan was that once we listened, we would go through the written version looking for repetition, metaphors, imagery and theme.

They were completely captivated. I certainly didn’t expect to hear them say “play it again” and then once more: “play it again.” As we listened for the third time I looked out at my class and saw bodies and shoulders moving in rhythm with the poet’s cadence. They echoed some of his words.

Then came discussion. The students weren’t sure what the whole poem was about, but they understood the loss of a young child when a parent is taken away and the guilt associated with having a family member in jail.

We went over the words,
Yes, we are our fathers’ sons and daughters,
But we are not their choices.
For despite their absences,
We are still here,

More discussion. Slowly it came out that many kids in the class had personal experience with a parent or a brother or sister in jail. There was real sadness when they spoke about it, but also a strange kind of distance, as if being locked up was a part of life, something that unfortunately happened to most families.

I won’t go through all the discussion, but I was profoundly touched by the experiences they shared. Five different periods listened to the poem, discussed its meaning and told about their lives.

While they talked, I think I learned more than they did. I learned that these kids who cut school, often refused to do any work and fought and cursed like sailors also had hearts. I’m so proud that for a little while they felt close enough to me to share.


4 Responses to “The Lesson that Taught Me about my Students”

  1. Thank you for writing my lesson for next week in AAH–I am soooo stealing this! WTG, phillie teacher for making poetry relevant.

    Sometimes, our students teach us amazing things!

    • Wonderful! I hope your kids get as much from it as we did. Do you know how to download videos from youtube? Youtube is blocked at our school but I downloaded the video they could see Beatty as well as hear him. He gives quite a performance.

      If you’re interested, the words are online so you can run off copies to hand out for group work.

      Let me know how it goes!

      • New teacher said

        How do you do your downloads? There seems to be one program that’s the one almost everyone uses, though I’ve never gotten around to it!

  2. Get the youtube downloader here

    It’s really easy to use. After you install downloader, go to the youtube video that you want a copy of.

    Copy the url of your video then launch your downloader and paste the url onto the downloader. Downloader will prompt you for any other information. Voila, you’ll have all the videos you and your kids could want.

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