if a sequoia could
Today was one of those days that might happen once or twice a year for most teachers if they are lucky and not drowning in this country's obsession with testing. The day before I had asked both of my classes to share their poems if they wanted to seeing that summer was slowly eating at their attention spans. However, the challenge for me was trying to engage the students that didn’t care or were too shy to share. While I was taking volunteers I picked on a few students who looked at me as if their lives depended on not sharing ever in life. Feeling defeated by the fear of students having their voice heard, I picked on Kelly who gave me the same look. But I needed someone to share so I pushed and asked the class if they wanted to hear her story; they went wild chanting and asking her to share. This went on for three minutes while she hid under her notebook, closed her folder, and pleaded with me to save her. Finally she said,
“Tomorrow. Tomorrow.” her eyes were bleeding for mercy. I agreed to the terms and told the class that she will keep her word and perform tomorrow. I was not sure how much she was actually going to keep her word. Kelly was an expressive girl but extremely shy in the classroom setting however, she seemed to be comfortable enough with me to open up and confide in me. One day during recess she came up to me and asked,
“How do you say goodbye to someone?” I was thrown by the poetic nature of the question and having just left a lot of friends from my semester in Edinburgh, I was still not sure if all my goodbyes were the right ones. I had to think quickly as her glasses looked up to me and her two white flowers she picked earlier shook nervously in her hands.
“Well, I’m not sure. When I have to say goodbye I usually give them a hug as long as it takes to say the whole alphabet. Then I let go, I know it’s not easy to say goodbye. If you need help with that I can help.”
“I’m going to need a lot of help!” she said as she ran inside. I walked up and saw her give her goodbye and give the flowers to a teacher in an office next to our class.
“That was the one.” she said. “My stomach hurts. Ugh! I hate goodbyes!” She did not know how much I too understood the sting of goodbyes. After that she came to me about a number of things first her singing talents but more importantly she needed help to find artistic purposes for her three-set notebook. One of them, she decided, is going to be an autograph book for the princesses at Disneyland, which her family can’t afford to go to so I told her I would take it since I was planning to go to Los Angeles (and possibly Disneyland) anyway and I will see how many princesses I could get in her name. I had the hope she would use this trust in me to see this poetry performance through to the end.
It was after lunch and I was at the teacher’s desk trying to focus myself since I was on the brink of a five-week summer break when I saw Kelly come up to the desk,
“Miss Tayllor? Could you help me?”
“Sure Kelly. What do you need?’
“Can you help me write a new poem? I don’t like the ones I’ve written.” She had a notebook with a fresh page in hand and a pencil ready to go. I told her I would help. The hard part was letting her voice be the guiding force of the poem. That is where the Pongo method really helped; I simply asked questions and her answers guided her writing process. I asked her,
“What do you want to write about? What would you want to tell this class? What would you want them to know if they had to be quiet for five minutes and you could speak? What would you say?” Her main response was that she was shy but had qualities they don’t know and from there slowly we drafted three stanzas that created her poem called “Me”. Her poem declared what the class might think of her and her shyness when in reality she was vibrant and was not going to change because she didn’t need to. It was strong for a first poem and powerful since she could have decided to write about her favorite Disney princess instead. After it was done I told her it was perfect.
“Can you help me practice?” she whispered. After school we went into the copy room and I helped her on her performance encouraging her to slow down and let her words be heard. I assured her that even if the worst happened I would be right there next to her the whole time even if she needed to stop and couldn’t finish. It was nice to see this voice emerge slowly the only question being: will the voice make it to the classroom?
The next day came and when I walked into the room there was Kelly eyes alert darting from person to person then to her poem. I knew her feeling too well. She came up to me immediately asking to practice a couple more times and trying to convince me she couldn’t do this; a student walks by at that moment reminding her that she made a promise to perform today. I told her that since she has already practiced this 5 times with me and at home it is definitely possible. Even after practicing in the hall she was still not convinced; she said her belly was hurting and she was so nervous she might laugh through the whole thing but all the while she was smiling. That is how I knew she could do it.
“9:30.” I said, “By 9:35 you will be done and will be so happy and loud of herself.” She agreed and I talked to her about other things to distract her for the next 5 minutes. The clock struck 9:30 and with the help of the teacher I got the class settled. I stressed the importance of poetic etiquette and respecting the experience and story of the performer. I was honest and told them that she was really nervous and needed the support and they sure did deliver screaming and hollering as I introduced Kelly and guided her to the front of the class. The teacher used my iPad to record discreetly but it got to the rest of the class and seeing they were able to have their electronics on the last day, they were itching to record too. Soon the class hushed to silence and Kelly with her notebook was free to begin.
9:33am, a roar of applause! The poem was over. She ran to her seat and sat heavy and overwhelmed by the experience face planting into the very poem she overcame. I ran to her and gave her the biggest hug. I was so proud! This is where the fire starts, when you realize you can do it! There is no stopping her now! When I finally looked at her face she had tears in her eyes, big ones falling down her cheeks and a gargantuan smile that would't quit. I never asked her why she was crying but I can only imagine that she couldn’t believe that she was actually able to do it and was so proud and happy that she was moved to tears. Tears of disbelief. She had experienced her own power. I hugged her even tighter and she cried some more. The class congratulated her and she walked triumphant for the rest of her day. She told me how much she was going to miss me and asked for my number and information so she could stay in touch. But that wasn't even the best part of the day. The best part was this:
“I can’t believe I did that. Who knows? I might continue to sing or if not that, maybe poetry!”
*To protect the confidentiality of the student her name has been changed for this publication*
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...