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Saturday, May 29, 2010

30. This Teaching Life (3) : The story of Jim's poem

I'll call him "Jim". He's in year 9. He is 14, and by far the smallest boy in the class. He joined my Year 8 class midway through 2009, after some difficulties: he was unhappy, the victim of much teasing and even some bullying. Jim settled into my class reasonably well.

On a couple of occasions this year, Jim has become upset. He sees himself as a 'poor student'; he lacks self confidence, especially when it comes to English.

When this happens, he tunes out; he won't speak - in short, he sulks. On one occasion, I set a 'Journal Writing task': 'You are to write 200 words in fifteen minutes - that's around 15 words a minute.'
Jim immediately became distressed. This time, he spoke out:
'200 words!! No way!! How am I supposed to write 200 words?' he shouted.
'That's the task Jim,' I said.
He was about to go into a very public sulk.
I spoke to the whole class" 'And I'm sorry, but people who don't complete the task during the lesson will have to stay in at recess time.'

Cathy - Jim's Integration aide - moved to his side and tried to calmo him down.

After 15 minutes I checked the 'word counts'.
'How many have completed fewer than 100 words?' No hands went up.
'Between 100 and 150?' A few hands went up, but Jim's was not one of them.
'Between 150 and 200?' Most of the class put hands up - including Jim.

At the end of the lesson, as he walked out the door, I smiled at Jim and said, 'I knew you could do it!' I thought I detected a slight grin.

We've recently started reading Stephen Herrick's verse novel: love, death and nose hair. Herrick opens his book with a poem entitled: My Name. The central character Jack 'talks' about his name. It's followed by 3 poems about Jack's family:

The first, called My Dream Family, presents an idealised family scene; the second, called My Real Family turns out to be a very negative, pessimistic account of Jack's family - a father who never showers, a mum in pink curlers ...; the third is called My Family- the truth.

Jim wrote his poems, and showed one of them to me at the end of the lesson:
I read it, and was deeply moved, especialy by the last line. I'm pretty tired these days, and still a bit emotionally raw, and a bit prone to tears. I often cry at the end of movies, for example.

As I handed his poem back to him,I said: 'You made me cry, Jim.'
He looked at me, incredulous.
'Are you joking?'
'No - your poem made me cry. It's a lovely poem - and very powerful. Especially the last line.'

I wiped the tear away.
'You're joking, aren't you!' Jim said.
'No - I'm not. Show it to Cathy. But don't tell her what happened. Don't tell her that your poem made me cry. Just let her read it - and see what happens.'

Here is Jim's poem:

Reality Dinner

What I told you in my dream family, only some
of it is true. My dad died when I was 1
so I never got to know him.
So one day I asked mum what foty team dad went for and mum
said Fitzroy which merged to Brisbane just before dad died.
My dad loved footy
playing it and watching it
if Brisbane lose he
would get upset.
I have followed him going for the Lions
and I love the AFL it is my favorite thing,
I am very into it
I also play footy for the Warrandyte Bloods.

Mum only bakes occasionally because she is
A very busy person
and she does lots of good things for
Our family.
and dinner is usually late at night but
I like it like that.
My brother lives in New Zealand
And my sisters Maddie and Nicolette are always on their laptops,
So they don't usually have time to talk to everyone.

Our dog Chloe is barking her head off at the dogs outside.
It is really annoying.
Everyone still has to go to school and work
And I still play 3 sports - tennis, footy and basketball
And Maddie and Nick play two sports
and Mum plays squash
she loves it a lot.

I really love my family
they mean the world to me and they are
Always there for me.

I just wish my dad was here with us.

Jim showed the poem to Cathy. Later I asked Cathy to write about her response - which had been as I expected. She, too, had been moved to tears. She suggested that Jim give the poem to his mum, for Mother's Day - which was the following week. Which he did. Jim prefaced this gift - his poem - with a short note to his mother:

Happy Mothers' day mum, I hope you
have a great day with everyone. Here is
a little poem that I have been doing in
English and I thought you might like it.
You are the best mum and you always
will be. Love from Jim.

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