Today was second session of trying to teach poetry to a group of at-risk teens. I use the word trying on purpose. If you read yesterday’s post about the first session you know that I was scheduled for one group and then moved to a second class. That class actually did some good work yesterday but today they put another bunch of students in, 7 new ones I think, and most of them were of the same attitude as those in the first day’s class.

In other words, it was not a good day.

I decided to repeat things from the first day, teaching them a basic drill of learning to describe something with the five senses and hoping to encourage them to think outside of the box. I’ve used this drill before as a warm-up and eventually the kids get the hang of it knowing that they are going to have to start the session with taking a word like PROUD or KIND or HOPE and then stretching their imagination to describe it.

We did a group poem on the board and then I asked them to try it on their own. I passed out a sheet of what I call power words, positive words that I hope they can learn how to use to describe themselves. Most couldn’t grasp the idea of picking a word. I was flexible. Pick any word I said. A good word. Not a negative one. For a few that was enough to at least try to get started. I walked around the room trying to help but for the most part they ignored me, turning their back on me to talk to someone else. But a few wrote. A few lines. That was all.

I took in candy to reward the good behavior but they turned their nose up at it.

There was one student who was stirring things up with everyone around him, poking at his neighbors and refusing to write. I tried to talk to him. I told him how the guys in jail had written some great things and how I was looking forward to reading the great things he would write too. And he told me being in jail was easier because they had no choice. He did no work at all, just tried to incite everyone around him to act up.

I didn’t say it out loud but I had to agree with him. There are consequences for their actions or inactions in jail. Here, there were none.

What took us more than half an hour to do today would have been done in less than 10 minutes in any of my other classes. I spent more time asking kids not to talk or not to hit each other than I did teaching. When the session was through I felt like it had all been a waste of my time. I asked the teacher for any tips on how to work with these kids and she said she had none. All she could offer was that she would be there to step in if needed.

On the way home I thought about the other classes I’ve taught and how there is always a spark, somewhere. That one child you can see waiting for you to open the door for them. I don’t feel it here. I don’t see hope here and that is the saddest thing I can possibly type.

We will give it one more try on Thursday. I’ve asked them to consider hand-picking kids for the class, kids that want to be there, kids who have earned the right to participate in something special. I’m told that’s what they have done in the past they just didn’t, for some reason, do it for me.

I’ve never turned away from a class like this but depending on how things go at the next session, I might just have to accept that this time isn’t the right time, for this group of kids.