Monday, March 09, 2009


I've been teaching now for several weeks and am starting to get to know the students better.

One of them, J., is a kid who, from the first day, set himself apart as a visual artist. He draws all the time, everywhere, on his notebooks, on t-shirts, on little slips of paper. Give him a pen or pencil and within seconds pictures will come out of it. And he's not bad at it, either.

He's also just as mellow in class as one would expect a visual artist to be. He is one of the most laid-back kids I've ever met. Nothing fazes him. It could also be that he's been sick - or depressed? - and tired all the time, which I've brought to the attention of the administration. But anyway what it all boils down to is that he sits quietly in class, looking always like he's on the verge of falling asleep. A nice boy -- the other kids seem to like him, and one of them once mentioned that she knows J. from camp and he's one of the nicest people she knows -- but with an air about him that says "I'm currently sitting in English class, but I'm not here, here."

Anyhow, most of my students have been experimenting with different forms of poetry, and keeping journals, which I get to read. And over the last few weeks I've noticed something about J's creative writing: it is truly creative. It is intense without being cliched. What I witness when reading his poetry is a level of originality and depth I've never seen before, not from a student. It's not hackneyed teenage angst. He's the real deal. There is a lot going on inside this kid, and he's got the actual talent to represent it in words. I read his work and think "My God, this kid could be the next Bob Dylan, or Allan Ginsburg."

I figured he must know already that he's good, so for a while I just wrote encouraging comments on his work and gave it back. But today I decided to make sure he realizes that he's at least at good at poetry as he is at drawing. So, even though he was complaining of feeling a little sick, I asked him to stay for a minute after class. Of course the first thing he wanted to know was whether he's in trouble. :-) Definitely not.

During class, my students gave presentations in groups. I don't know what J had done to his nose, but apparently it was bleeding and he spent the class sticking little pieces of paper up it. Ah, the glamour of teaching teenagers.

After class, he sat down with me and I started telling him that ... well, first I had to ask him to remove the piece of paper in his nose, because it's distracting, and he was like "aw, yeah, I guess it's hard to take me seriously with this"... and I told him that I think his writing is truly unique and special, and I wish I could help him mold his talent, but poetry isn't my "thing" as much as journalism, but I hope he continues writing and developing it, and maybe try songwriting -- and finding a mentor of some kind.

His mellow response? "Tell my mom. She'll figure something out."

I asked him if poetry is one of his "things" as much as drawing, and he said he'd never written poetry until this class. I've discovered a talent! Me! I discovered someone!

Meanwhile, the news that his English teacher thinks he's super-talented did not faze him, of course. I had to ask him outright if he's pleased to hear this. He said "yeah. It's cool..." and went on his way.

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