This past week I walked into my Friday morning poetry workshop, a room filled with teenagers ready for the weekend. All of us wanted to reach the end of the school day to embrace other parts of our lives.
One talented student has a voice from heaven. Later that afternoon, I heard her practice for an upcoming performance. (I briefly entered her rehearsal room and applauded!) One young man had a sports meet the next day and was understandably conserving his energy. Another teenager was composing a song during the workshop on his computer, usually something I’m not wild about (phones and staring at computers during poetry — yes, I’m a traditionalist). His doing so didn’t bother me, though. He was lost in his own world of creativity and being pretty respectful about it.
As for me, although I love teaching, I’m in the thick of my busiest season as a school administrator. I’ve also been volunteering for a political campaign that will wind down after Election Day. Later that afternoon, I joined signwavers who included the gentleman who will very likely win a seat in Congress. By the time we packed up signs we had been waving on street corners and all gave each other high fives, I was riding an adrenaline rush!
But neither the students nor I had that rush at the beginning of the poetry workshop earlier in the day. Then I looked on the floor of the classroom and saw a computer cover that showed Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.
I picked it up, showed it to the teenagers, and asked them if they knew anything about Vincent van Gogh or Starry Night. They did not! I try very hard not to lecture when I teach, even if I hope that this generation of teenagers will have the same curiosity I did about the world. I remind myself that they have perspectives I never did. I can learn from them as much as they might from me.
I often talk to my students in the poetry workshop or the German elective I teach about finding a passion that can become a lifelong friend, like music, poetry, running, tennis — anything that you can go back to at different points in your life time and time again.
I even mentioned last Friday during the workshop a favorite poem of mine, The Starry Night by Anne Sexton. I told the students that I had first read the poem at their age, that I’ve gone back to it several times for inspiration, that I would share it with them on Monday when we meet again.
Truth be told, I haven’t read The Starry Night for about 10 years. Since then, I’ve become a father of a young girl who will become a teenager before I know it.
I reread the poem after the workshop. It’s stunning, but I’m not going to discuss it with the teenagers on Monday! If I ever teach a poetry class at a university, I’ll have students read it together. The themes, explored in achingly beautiful words, are a bit dark to talk about with young learners. I’m not going to go there as they say.
But we did try a new favorite method I’ve explored to convey the excitement of creating poetry to students: a group project where students and I each take a turn writing a line of a poem. Last Friday, we began our own Starry Night based on the students seeing the computer cover reproduction of Vincent van Gough’s painting. I’ll be sure to share it with readers of this blog for my next post.