Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Amid The Destruction, Poetry Stands

This picture, one taken only a street away from a dear friend’s house, is one of many telling the story of the tornado destruction in my school community of Trussville, AL.

I’m awakened at 3:00am Monday morning to the television, radio, and tornado siren warnings….and it felt like the April 27th all over again. Tornadoes feel all too common in AL these days, and as my students entered the classroom yesterday, their stories of loss and destruction filled the room.

Thanks to our amazing principal, Phyllis Faust, who leads our family of teachers and learners every day, our students feel safe and encouraged because they know they have a school family to embrace them not just in the good times, but the tough ones as well. Those students who were able to attend school yesterday showed strength and saw past the sadness and the destruction. They offered encouragement and hope to our “family”, those friends and community members who lost possessions, homes, and loved ones--not with monetary donations, or clothing, or supplies…..but with poetry.

Ralph Fletcher’s poetry book, A Writing Kind of Day, and his mentor poem, "Poetry Stands", reminded us all that poetry has the power to heal wounds, and when everything else around us falls apart, poetry stands.

Below are a few examples of poems written by my sixth graders to lift the spirits of their friends and community members. (first drafts written in a 47 minute class period, I might add ☺ )

These young writers believe that words do have the power to heal, and amid the destruction in our community, poetry stands.

Branden’s poem

Don’t feel bad
Lots of people understand
Mrs. Faust calls us a family
For one simple reason
If one of us goes in
Then we all go through it
I know this day was grim
I know this day was tough
But I also know
We can get through this together
As one big family
On January 23 and beyond

by Sadie

Pain will one day be an old enemy
It embraced us tightly
Yes, the silent tears in my heart remain
The feelings of fear and loss
I’m afraid of my shadow,
Alone in a quiet, dark room

But light shines through
A light of hope
Faith covers my wounds
Peace overlays a destroyed town

And again I hear comforting sounds
Birds chirp.
Angels sing.
Today’s a new day

Noah’s poem

You have feelings of fear and loss
But friends are here to protect

Destruction has happened
Loss has come

You are a part of this city
And we will all help

Be brave.

Happiness rules
Where fear can’t go.

My January 23rd Dream

I rest in a night of sleep
Pushes and nudges
Awaken me to the feelings of
Fear and loss
I fly to the window
Not seeing life
The tv is blaring

It takes a while
Until I realize
The faint sound of the alarm

The rain
The thunder
The lighting
The wind
Drained the sound
Of the noise I remembered
Not too many months before

The signal
That destruction and debris
Would be all that’s left

Until the sun begins to rise
January 24, 2012.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lessons in Photography and Keeping Your Mouth Shut

In November I had the privilege of sharing my sixth grader’s nonfiction writing and my thinking behind this work with a wonderful audience of colleagues…and with co-presenters Linda Hoyt, Ellin Keene, and Seymour Simon at NCTE in Chicago. (Yep. You are so very correct. O. M. G. is what I thought when Linda called and asked me to present with them…three literacy mentors and superstars I tend to stalk at professional conferences.

So here’s the story that leads to every other blog I will post in 2012...

I was the last to speak in our presentation at NCTE, and after I finished, Ellin opened the floor for questions. Heart still pounding from nerves and adrenaline and feeling pretty proud that I didn’t make a fool of myself, I sat up a bit taller in my chair than I was sitting before the presentation began. Armpits were soaked and my ears were red, but I was feeling good.

I look out into the audience, and this nice lady in an orange shirt raised her hand and asked, “Do you take all your photographs?”
This is where pride and confidence get in the big fat way.
I quickly answered her with a strong, “YES, I take all my pictures!”, thinking to myself that she was impressed with my iPhone 4 skills and the photos imbedded into the slides of my presentation.
This is when I quickly feel a Linda Hoyt elbow in my side and the kind, emphatic whisper in my ear of “she’s not talking to you……

Mmmm. Hmmm.
I quickly realize that, OF COURSE the question is for Seymour Simon, PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER who takes the majority of the photographs for EVERY SINGLE PHOTO ESSAY he writes!!
Remember the “I didn’t make a fool of myself” feeling?
That’s gone now.

Graciously, Seymour answers the lady’s question and explains… (God knows what because I was so beyond embarrassed I didn’t hear a word he said and was plotting my crawl under the table to die)
Seymour finishes his answer and then I babble like a fool and get a strong, “JUST SHUT UP!!” from the author of over three hundred amazingly crafted, beautifully photographed nonfiction books for children.

Just. Shut. Up. Great advice from a great man, writer, and photographer.

So since that embarrassing November moment, “shut up” has been at the forefront of my mind. Just shut up. It's critical to let the kids do the talking and the thinking….and make it my job to listen, photograph, videotape, and write about every second of learning that is taking place.

My blog posts from now on will be one of those iPhone 4 photos that captures a pivotal moment in the learning, thinking, and growing of this classroom of sixth grade readers and writers....and the learning, thinking, and growing of this sixth grade teacher.

So now when I’m in doubt about what to do to help my students, I’ll embrace the smart phone and shut up.

To learn more from these wonderful writers, thinkers, photographers, and people, visit their websites below.
Linda Hoyt
Seymour Simon
Ellin Keene

Ann Marie