Tuesday, May 24, 2016

When Words Bounce Back #SOL16

A page from the book Madison reimagined.
Last Thursday, I said goodbye to my AP Literature and Composition students. There's something special about firsts. The first year of teaching. The first time teaching a lesson. The first time teaching a new class. They're all filled with unknowns, feelings of self-doubt and messiness, and special moments of bonding with students.

I had these experiences teaching AP Lit and Comp this year, and I had one when Madison presented her SPOKEN WORD POEM to the class.

The poem begins with words. My words. Words I offered unsolicited during lunch one day when a group of students gathered in my room, as they often did throughout the year, and talked about the significant and trivial concerns that filled their lives.

"You can have it all, but you can't have it all at once." Those words. I spoke them one day during the chatter about women's lives that often occupied my students' thoughts, especially the ponderings of female students.

Madison took those words. Words she borrowed and made her own as I too made them my own, at least the "You can have it all" part. That part I soon learned, came at a cost. At least for me. Perhaps others' truths are different.

From those words, Madison wrote and spoke with all-consuming passion. As I listened, as the words bounced back to me from Madison's voice, I thought about the choices I've made in my life. Past choices. Present choices. Future choices. All resonate as moments that privilege something to the marginalization and exclusion of something else. "You can have it all, but you can't have it all at once" represents a truth for me and for my students, a truth we rarely utter. We teachers like to offer platitudes: "Of course you can grow up to be a Yankee."

As Madison delved deeper into her poem and her truth about the choices she has and will make, I cried. Not from sadness. I cried because I remembered. I remembered the choices I'd made over the years. I thought about the unknowns associated with those choices at the time I made them. And I realized that those choices had led me to that moment sitting on the couch in my room, listening to this gifted young woman reflect on my words and on her future. I cried because I realized that my choices, for all the ups and downs in my life, both personal and professional, had brought me to that moment.

I will miss my AP Lit and Comp students, but I will have their words, those they wrote in their essays and in their spoken word poems and those imprinted on my mind during our many discussions.

Madison wrote a letter to me in which she spoke about the "importance of dialogue in the classroom. In the letter she said, "In a time of life when most of us expect to be preached to rather than heard, you have shown us that every voice is important."

And because the voices of my students is far more important than my own, I'm including in this post her spoken word poem. There's a little chatter from some classmates at the beginning, and the poem begins ten seconds into the recording.

At the top of this post I've included a picture of a bird cage and a deer. They protrude from the pocket of a library book check-out card holder. The picture is part of a reimagined book Madison gave to me. Using Four Tragedies: William Shakespeare, Madison created a new work of art. 

The picture of the bird is in dialogue with Edna in The Awakening. Kate Chopin uses the image of a caged bird to symbolize Edna's desire to flee the trappings of her life. The deer speaks to both Edna and Nora from A Doll's House

Of course, the book holder echoes the power of art, of writing, of imaginative literature to open the doors Madison writes and speaks about as she seeks to have it all, even though she can't have it all at once. 
Each Tuesday the Two Writing Teachers team
sponsors the Slice of Life Story Challenge on
the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thank you, Staci
and all who work so faithfully for this community. 


  1. Wow!! What an amazing poem! What a wonderful, talented young woman, and what a terrific teacher you are to nurture her gifts. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. This. Is. Extraordinary. Thank you so so so much for sharing it. What a powerful poem, powerful sharing. You are making such a profound impact! I love this especially, "The tree is so vast and I am such a slow climber."

  3. That was great! What an excellent poem. So lucky to have been in your class.

  4. I appreciate she said her voice was heard. Often it seems so many people are willing to preach and few willing to listen. That is a wonderful quality you have Glenda, listening.