middle school, poetry, and courage — a true story

Setting:  Middle School Library and a Grade 9 Leadership class. 29 students.

Main characters:  Tobin, an outspoken boy.

Kari, a somewhat shy girl.

Ms. Berry, me, the teacher

** Names changed to protect the identity of students.

Scene:

I just finish reviewing the projects students have passionately decided to work on, and I pause. Something tells me to double-check the black letters of the white board I’ve written and scan the list. I almost miss it, but I notice a white space on the board and my mouth opens before I realize what has happened, “Kari, your name and your poetry contest project is not on the list. I wrote it down. It was here…” I barely finish my sentence before Kari interrupts me, in front of the class, looking slightly down, “I erased it.” “I don’t want to do it anymore…”

I could tell, by her body language, that publicly this was not the space to ask her further questions. She could tell from my body language that I felt deflated too. She has a passion for poetry and it would be a risk for her to put a school contest out to students, but last class she was willing to try. I could only imagine what had happened between last week and today.

I say, “I’d like to talk to you about it after…You love poetry…” I make myself pause. I just feel so bummed. I can’t even help it. I don’t want to push, but I want her to shine. I want her to take a risk, but she’s fragile at this moment.

In that pause, I hear the words, “I’ll work with Kari on the poetry contest. ” Tobin speaks up with clarity and conviction. Kari hardly knows Tobin. I look at him in awe. There is a long pause. “Yes, I’d like to work with Kari. We’ll do the poetry contest together.”

Everyone moves about getting themselves sorted to work on their projects.

Tobin and Kari meet and move to the other side of the library. Half way through the class they have a plan and criteria for the contest. They ask me to review it, with a huge sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm. Kari’s body language has flipped the scales from depressed to on top of the world — supported and encouraged by a ‘classmate stranger’.

We discuss the plan, and I’m feeling so elated I don’t know how to contain my excitement. By the end of the class sign up sheets are on the hallway walls, the contest plan is on the announcements, and a few posters are up around the school.

This boy and this girl have never worked together, ever. In fact, they barely know each other, although they’ve been in this class together for almost 2 and a half months now. Tobin doesn’t have a hidden reason to work with Kari, because this is middle school and it could easily be an ‘in’ if he liked her.  He isn’t interested in that.

Kari tells me that Tobin won a poetry contest in Grade 3.  Her eyes shine.  Tobin proudly tells me that Kari won a poetry contest in Grade 5.

Middle school is like a shark tank, some days.  And this boy showed the greatest act of courage I’ve seen in my 15 years of teaching. He lit up someone’s confidence, enthusiasm, and joy with the flick of encouragement — ‘I will support you.’ Publicly, nonetheless, in front of 27 other Grade 9 students.  He risked ridicule not only supporting Kari, but supporting a poetry contest.

I am so grateful to have witnessed this great act of courage, involving —
middle school and poetry.

In wild blossom spirit,

gillian

1 thought on “middle school, poetry, and courage — a true story

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