After rewriting Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Swing” with quite a few classes it became clear that there are many more ways to solve a poetic challenge than I thought possible. While many of the ideas/words/images the children came up with were the same, there were also many unique visions from each class. After brainstorming, each class chose a different focus to finishing their poem. I hadn’t expected this. I mean the view from the swing is simply the view from the swing, isn’t it? Absolutely not. How could I have been so naïve?
In most classes, I needed to really shepherd them the process. One class, however, took charge early. They delighted in beating out the rhythm, and finding words to fill the beats. They refused to be limited by our brainstorming. In the end the children grabbed scrap paper from my desk and feverishly jotted down their suggestions for amending our poem. I have a stack of entries and multiple submissions from most of the class. It is important to note that the scrap paper part of the lesson was entirely their creation.
Meanwhile, a class that had not yet done their three minute rhyme showed me something which tore at my heart. One child could think of just one word and started to weep. It’s not that this child is not used to challenges or cries when he doesn’t win. It was just that he was so inspired by the poetry. He was afraid that if he could not rhyme he could not be a poet. A wonderful thing happened. His classmates circled him, hugged him and affirmed him. They said things wise beyond their years and said them, dare I say it, poetically. His tears dried and he bravely joined us to find out how others did.
I gave my regular spiel, which starts by asking children to raise their hands if they have one or more rhyming word on their paper. Almost all children do. I congratulate them for being one step on the road to being a poet and compliment them on their poetic hearts. I then tell them that the children who were unable to rhyme may be the next stars in the world of non-rhyming poetry. This class actually cheered, jumped out of their seats and clutched their poetic hearts. They were so happy to be told that they already were something. Guess who smiled the broadest? You could not have stopped them from rhyming the rest of the class period. Nor could you have stopped them for looking for beautiful combinations of words.
What did I learn from this? Children love to be told that they are something. Aside from loving to get good grades or get praise, developing an identity is inspiring to them. Writing a sentence may be looked at as a chore. Being a poet seems like an honor. Writing is what poets do. Writing becomes a way of validating who they are. The assignment may be the same – write two sentences that rhyme. But the result is different. Way different. Even if the sentences are identical. When you inspire a vision, an identity and a passion, you inspire so much more.
I no longer think of myself as merely a teacher but more of a ringleader, mentor, inspirational coach. Yes I am a teacher, but I want to be even more. I hope I can do it poetically.