Growing Roses from Concrete
My first assignment as a student teacher was to work with a teacher that had a special class of students with “learning issues.” On the day I showed up, the principal informed me that the teacher had quit the previous day and asked if I’d be willing to still lead the class. I was also told that these were 8th graders that other teachers had given up on being able to manage in their classrooms in a school where most student came from very tough backgrounds. They all later confided in me that everyone of them was in a gang and they figured they’d be very lucky to live to the age of 18, and hence, education wasn’t a big priority for them – and education beyond high school was beyond their wildest dreams.
I remembered a book one of my professors had suggested that she used when she taught at juvenile hall. It was Tupac Shakur‘s book of poetry The Rose That Grew From Concrete.
I bought enough used copies of the book so each student could have once to keep as their own. The students were surprised that I even knew who Tupac was and that I knew lots of his material, but they were really surprised that I had bought them this book for them to keep. They didn’t know that Pac wrote poetry, they had really not expected me to be showing them something from Pac they hadn’t know about. When I next saw them, most of these 8th graders told me it was the first book they ever read. They were proud to carry it around with them, and they had selected their favorite poem. Some had also been inspired to write their first poem after reading it. I could not read any of their poems without tears coming to my eyes – pretty amazing stuff.
Some pointed out that this was cool, and the only other reading of poetry some previous teachers had tried to foist on them was some junk by Shakespeare. I pointed out that Shakespeare just grew up in a different time, in another country and on another type of “concrete”. That tweaked their curiosity, and now a door was open to expand their horizons and awareness.
Know your audience and find a connection is a valid context to find a place to start any dialog. Embrace the challenge, enjoy the fruits of your investments.