The good news for me was that The Sticky Notes Poetry Festival, a meeting of writing students from area schools at my old place of employment, was moved to Monday, yesterday. And that I got to go in and teach during it. Of course I was awake way before dawn, nervous but still the old fire dog who can't NOT jump on the truck when the whistle goes off. Or the alarm clock as the case may be.
Twelve years ago when a few colleagues, a few kids, and I put on the first Sticky Notes Festival, there was a major writing program at the school. A few dedicated and talented English teachers are keeping it going despite a school system intent on cutting expenses to the very bone. But there are far fewer class sections, far fewer teachers with workshops in their schedules. It's a sign of the times: big tests rather than portfolios, and an anti-teacher governor here in New York State. Disheartening. It's not what kids need.
The kids I saw yesterday whooped at each other's poems. They wrote so hard by hand that I thought they would get writer's cramp. At the end of a workshop I gave about remembering childhood in poetry, they told me that I should be working at Hogwarts, which was about the tenth time that day I teared up. There was the school literary magazine that I renamed Epiphany at the suggestion of a student--what--fifteen years ago? Still going strong. And there was the writing lab with its sign above the door honoring another student, much loved, who died tragically before he could even graduate. And the poetry night where the school library is turned into a Greenwich Village coffee shop circa 1963 complete with acoustic music--Java Jive--that's in its 18th year!! A dear colleague who teaches drama and English both invented that with me on a hike by the Hudson River all those many years ago. Still happening. Still happening. The stuff that kept me getting up in the morning as a teacher still exists, and it made me use up a few Kleenex.
I have to have faith that the pendulum will swing back the other way, that we'll start calling writers writers again--and not content providers. And that we'll ease up the pressure in the way we evaluate learning. The Song is alive in kids, and so are stories, narrative, drama, the need to create, the need to color outside the lines. Nobody looks back with love about how well she was prepared to do the Critical Lens essay on the English Regents. But the poem she got to YAWP out to a bunch of cheering friends when that cruddy boyfriend of hers broke her heart? That'll stay in her now-healed-heart for keeps. And in mine, too. I'm still an old softy--and proud of it.