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Sam van Zweden

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teaching

Floored by the Genius of 16 Year-Olds

Yesterday I went back to my old high school for a day to run a poetry-writing workshop. I did this with quite some hesitation, as I find the idea of “teaching poetry” really problematic, and my high school always seemed to breed a particularly feral kind of 16 year-old.

As soon as I walked into the classroom, kids started screaming questions about who I am, and did my piercings hurt, and am I a qualified teacher, or just some girl?

I was backed up by an ex-teacher and still close friend, so when the kids were told to settle down, we got to discussing poetry and writing some.

Discussions were mixed – some kids had some really good insight and ideas about the poems we looked at. Others really struggled with the idea of wordplay (multiple meanings of words, subtle punch lines, metaphors).

What really got me though, was the absolute loveliness that came from some of these young writers. A small group of boys were really keen to share what they thought the writers intended, and also to share their own writing with the class. Two quiet young ladies sat up the back and wrote really sweet poems about each other and their friendship – they produced the innocent highlight of my day. Working on the use of metaphor and similies, they wrote about how each was a great friend to the other. “Casey is a great friend who is always there for me,” wrote one, “just like my iPod.” In response, her friend described her as “a balloon you want to hold forever”.

One young man broke my heart, writing so honestly about his mother who is struggling with bipolar. I saw so much of myself in him, and while what he wrote missed the mark of the activities we were working on, I think it’s much more important for him to know that his writing is a valid way of expressing and sharing what he’s going through.

Overall, these kids had some really interesting ways of seeing the world, and produced writing stronger than a lot of the stuff I’ve seen from university students.

While my skills as a teacher (and crowd-controller) certainly need some work, I feel like those who were willing to engage in the work really took something away from this workshop. Thus, I feel like I did something good.

Please understand, this visit was not my idea.

Dear Delicate Progeny of Wonthaggi Secondary College,

Tomorrow we meet for a workshop on poetry writing. I hope you believe I know what I’m talking about, and understand that the unleashing of the artistic mashed potato inside of me was the idea of the English department, and not myself.

Having said this – I hope you appreciate the fact that I went to pains to show you brilliant things written by ’emerging’ young people, and I hope I do not confuse and scare you away from writing poetry forever more. I hope I can manage to make words more exciting than you thought they were, and I hope you take away at least one tiny thing that helps you look at your poetry differently. If I can manage that, it was worth it.

Regards,

Sam.

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