I Want to See What’s On the Other Side

I actually wrote this entry a few weeks back, but am just now finding the time to edit and post. My original thoughts about posting once a week are being revisited as I struggle to find time; I have a brand new appreciation for people who write daily. I want to write daily . . . sigh.

At the beginning of this school year I made a commitment to be with students as much as my job responsibilities allowed. I don’t believe I can truly meet the needs of the teachers I serve without getting to know some of the students in their classes; being with students also reminds me why I choose to be in the public school setting. This semester it has been my honor to meet with a group of 9th grade young women once a week for a little over an hour. With their parents’ and principal’s permission, I take them lunch and we read and discuss poetry and essays and then we write. These young women don’t especially enjoy reading and writing; they’ve never experienced true success as readers and writers, but we dive in head first anyway. I am learning so much from them, and our time together has become a highlight of each week. Below is a small snapshot of our first encounter.

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Our first day together and the introductions begin.

 Tell me something about yourself.

        I’ve never like to read.

       All we do is take notes. I just copy then can’t remember why.

       I really like Ms. S. cause she listens to me when I talk. She doesn’t make me feel stupid.

       Math is my favorite.

       You said we’re going to write? Like 5 paragraph write?

       Chick Fil A? You brought us Chick Fil A? I love Chick Fil A!

       Veatch? Nathan’s your son? No way.

Let’s read this poem.

 

Eyes roll.

       A poem?

Yes. A poem. See if you hear anything that grabs you.

So we read a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, one I hope will open dialogue.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see
.

In an effort to get to know these young women, young women I am meeting for the very first time, beautiful young women, I look to the poem. We read it together, closely, then alone, then talk about some of the words and their relationships.

Noise and bramble? Thorn and din? What are spiny words? Smooth words? Are those words saying something?

What about that line? That line right there. I point.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
The will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side
.

What is the poet saying?

          Sounds like she’s trying to get somewhere.

Where?

          To the other side, whatever that means.

No, she’s not trying to get to the other side, she’s trying to see what’s on the other side.

What’s the difference? Isn’t it the same?

 

Maybe it is the same; maybe not. What do people sometimes do in an effort to see what’s on the other side?

Do you mean like people traveling?

Maybe. Why do people travel?

To have fun.

To see something new.

To get away from where they are.

What else ?

Maybe it means like people like astronauts trying to see what’s in space.

Or going to a new job.

Just trying anything new.

         I think it’s about just working hard to get somewhere. Like trying to make things better.

 

All of your ideas make sense. Is there something you want to see? Something out there that you’d love to discover?

They talk. I listen.

If you could see to the other, what would you want to see? Where would you go? Let’s write.

Heads down and pens move. Willingly they write. Their words flow. No one talks.

The bell rings and they quickly leave, but not before asking if we’ll meet again. I’m relieved when they are excited at my yes.

I read their brief responses written in a very few moments. Their responses vary. Some write about the other side of fear, having the courage to try out for the track team, something new and scary. Another describes the other side as being a home with both parents as opposed to a year with the dad followed by a year with the mom, every year different.

And one writes about simply wanting to like who she is:

I want to see the other side of me. I want to like me. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be as pretty as a model, to have a smile that made people say, “You’ve got a pretty smile.” No one has ever told me I have a pretty smile. I’m just a girl, a girl who has never felt real comfortable in her own skin. Just once I want to see the other side of that. (used with permission)

So this is where we begin. Their brief responses open small windows into the “who” of these young women, something we educators often neglect because of daily pressures, but something sorely needed if true engagement is to take place. Next week we’re going to read a much more challenging passage; a bit longer and denser, a bit more of a stretch. Together we’ll read and we’ll discuss and we’ll write. My hope is that they learn as much from me as I am learning from them.

11 Comments

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11 Responses to I Want to See What’s On the Other Side

  1. Sheila, hello and it’s great to see you writing again on your blog, I’ve enjoyed them all.

    Again I’m happy to read what’s on the other side. When you have completed your investigation of your other side, I’ll be waiting to read your results; I’m sure you will not be disappointed.
    Take care and busy you are,
    Bruce Sr.

  2. Sometimes all it takes is to open the door a crack and amazing insights rush through. I’m glad you are with kids again. It is what keeps me going in this exhausting profession.

    • Janet – each day I feel drawn more and more back to the classroom. Big, systemic change is so hard so perhaps I need to try and make a difference in the lives of 6 periods of young adults. Huge thoughts in my head . . . can one ever go back?

  3. Lohri Williams

    Sometimes I want to see what is on the other side of a very difficult season of________.(you fill in the blank) Yesterday I wanted to see just for a glimpse, perhaps 60 seconds what is on the other side of this life . I wanted to see into heaven. You see my neighbor died ,& I was at his funeral. I wondered if we could all just get a glimpse would we still cry or would we all just fall on our faces. Recently in a book I read, the author suggested the reason Jesus cried when He heard of Lazarus death was because He was going to have to call him back from heaven. I had never once heard that explanation for Jesus weeping. Still has me thinking….

    • Lohri – my sister has been with us for a few weeks and she and I had almost the same conversation yesterday. Eternity has already begun, right here, everyday, and death seems like the doorway into a bigger eternity. I had lots of thoughts on “the other side”, especially how we can come along side others and help them see the other side that alludes them. Love you.

  4. Susan

    Making a commitment to work with a consistent group of students, not only benefits them tremendously, but it makes you more credible to classroom teachers, Sheila. If policy makers and district office staff would join you in the trenches, better decisions would be made. Keep up the good work, and have fun!

    • Susan – I’m sure I made the endeavor sound more noble than it really is – it’s more fun than work, that’s for sure. It also reminds me of why I go to work. For me that’s a necessity, not an extra. Thanks, once again, for the encouragement.

  5. Angie Brown

    So glad you are actively teaching again, Sheila. You are a teacher at heart. I imagine those students experiencing their own awakening writing capabilities as they sit with you and read and listen and express themselves. Then in their futures fondly recalling their times spent in Mrs. Veatch’s poetry lunches. Via con dios y casera sera.

  6. Lyla

    I agree whole-hardheartedly with Susan. What you are doing should be in all administrators and content specialist job requirements. You can pick out the folks that haven’t been in touch with a classroom in a long time. This is a very noble endeavor and those young ladies will never forget you for what you are doing for them.

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