Monday was the ninth session of the Incarcerated teens poetry class.
It was a hard day. I should have known that going into it thinking everything was going to go smoothly was a sure sign that things would get turned upside down. I needed some display art to add in with their poems so I thought we’d just do some simple torn paper mosaic collages. They had done a lot of small poems so I thought if they did a small background then I could put their poem in front of it and it would pop. I did a practice one myself at home. It took me 15 minutes.
I have long saved colors from magazines so I had a large collection of paper for them to choose from. I spent a couple of hours going through it all to remove all the red and the blue. When I spread it out on the table, colorside up, it was a rainbow of choices to choose from. I took in my example and showed it to each of them. I explained what we were going to do and handed out the base paper. I showed them the example again. Then they went up a few at a time to pick out their paper.
Big mistake on my part to use the magazines because even though they knew the room rules, even though I told them multiple times to use the color side ONLY, they still turned every single piece of paper over looked for women and booze and words and inappropriate colors. What was I thinking? And then, even when they got back to their desks, they couldn’t, wouldn’t grasp the concept. I felt like I had walked into a new room instead of the room full of smart young men I’d been working with for a while.
Eventually a few of them did it although I don’t think anyone got into it. They were doing it to get it done so they could do something else. Unfortunately for them, the something else was more college of letters to spell out the title of the project.
Art fail on my part but lessons learned. And the teacher urged me not to think too harshly of them (I didn’t really, it was more beating myself up for not thinking it through better) because it was Monday and Mondays are hard for them. Many of them get to see family on the weekend so it makes Monday that much more stark when they are reminded of not being able to go home yet.
We did do a group poem on the topic of freedom and they did a wonderful job with it.
It was a reminder day for me. A reminder that there are no sure things in life. The lesson plan you think is perfect can fall apart and you have to improvise. The art project you think is easy could become too hard for some people to do no matter how much time you give. The book you are writing becomes a mountain that keeps kicking you off each time you think you’re getting closer to the top.
The trick is to keep coming back for another round and not giving up.
Your colleague is right. You can’t feel bad about it as some things have to be learned. It is not easy to teach; we forget that sometimes and think that being good at our subject makes us good teachers. I’ve tried teaching a couple of different topics where I am very confident in the material and struggled. My sister, who has been teaching for fifteen years, joined me in one class and you would have thought I had a completely different group of students. She knows what to avoid–and what you describe is something she would say ANY group, professional adults (especially male) included, would do. They are curious, they have to look for what they are told not to look for. Your guys are no worse than the honors students in an elite school. They just have more excuse for it!
Stop beating up on yourself.
Arwen, who was a Hermione in school and still always hated collage projects
Interesting that so far, it sounds like you’ve had better connections with them through words than through visual arts.
Hey, good for you for getting in there and caring and going through with it. In my opinion, they are behaving like most teenagers. They got more out of it than they are willing to admit. The “cool” thing is to not do it, and yet, in the doing something more profound is happening. It’s a win-win, even though I know it didn’t feel like it. Hang in there. It will be better next time!
Thanks, Laura. Hey, are you going to Asilomar next week? I’d love to meet you.
Yup. I’ll be there:) Can’t wait to meet you. Can’t wait for the conference too!
Gentle hugs, Susan. Your honesty in sharing the downs as well the ups is part of why I admire you so much.
Wow, I wonder how many of those kids were kicked around themselves? Violence begets violence. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
As writers, I guess most of us have those moments of self-doubt. It’s such a brutal business.