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My afternoon at Pearl City High School: what a blast!

Posted by JEAN TOYAMA
Thursday, April 14, 2011 1:52 AM


I just returned from teaching two of Chris Windnagle’s classes at Pearl City High School. When people ask me whether I miss teaching, I say no, as I think about the teaching I did at UHM. Today I was fortunate to get a chance to remember the teaching I did before I went to the university, when I taught 7-12th grades. Yes, I do miss the energy exchange and the give and take of personalities when teaching younger students. The students in both classes were most welcoming and natural. They were themselves, some of them their naughty selves. But I loved it. I also loved the quiet, unassuming ones, the serious ones. Students at this age are so open. Really refreshing.

The first class had chosen NCbtF as the book they wanted to read for the Celebrate Reading even t this Saturday, which is why I went to the school. For both sessions I started with general questions on why we write and what we write about. Students offered the answers I was looking for: to express themselves, to remember, to mark something, to reflect, to learn. They understood that writing about themselves was a way to learn about themselves and to learn, to change. I pointed out that we also write about the world around us: politics, science. They offered the rest: history, society, literature, art. (Maybe they didn’t use those words, but that’s what they meant.) In other words, we write about what makes us human.

Many in the first class had read the book; however, I didn’t bring copies of the poems for them so they had to listen carefully. This was an even greater challenge for the second class, since most, if not all the students had not read NCbtF. So they were at a real disadvantage. Thankfully, both classes were able to respond to the questions I asked about the poems I read . It was wonderful to realize that the students were listening and hearing the words. Moreover, they were thinking. I don’t want to sound patronizing, but so often people say students don’t like poetry. These students listened.

As proof, I offer my poem, “No Choice but to Follow.” (OK, I chose it because it is my poem and because it’s a great example of how we read: how we make connections with the world). I asked the students what echoes they heard in the poem, what myths, Bible stories were evoked. Both classes were able to come up with Persephone and Demeter, one class indicated the change in seasons. The other class identified Lot and his wife who turned to a pile of salt. Sadly, no one was able to identify Orpheus and Eurydice. (If they (you) are reading this, remember.) But one student did remember Hades. Wonderful!!

I want to thank the students (if they are reading this) for allowing me to read my favorite links: “Faithless without memory and “All we do not know”. The former is about the war against Iraq and the latter about string theory. They are my longest poems. The students let me talk about my thoughts and my feelings, my interests and my passions about these things. I thank them now for being such attentive listeners.

At first I was reluctant to do these workshops: they took time away from my writing. Now, I am so happy that Chris called my back. I was able to get in touch with my poems and with what made me love teaching.

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