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Just get out of the way

My first semester working with 12th-grade students came to an end today and I would be lying if I didn't say I was a bit emotional about it. This group has had the entirety of their High School career tossed about on the waving sea that has been Covid. Today, as I sat listening to students, reflect on their semester, their work, their growth, and their struggles one said,


"Mr. G I think I have grown a lot considering this is the first year I really have had LA since halfway through Grade 10"


This simple observation brought back a lot of comments throughout the year kids made when things got hard. The complaints about having only written one essay before, never being asked to write a critical analysis essay before and now having a high stakes test on it (it was canceled), and not understanding how that is even a needed skill (I am not sure on that either). All those thoughts early in the year are what pushed me to make changes in how we would tackle our writing. Today, as I listened to my students share, I was thrilled to hear them reflect on their writing. They brought up assignments from September that I had forgotten about but they felt were great examples of real writing. We studied essays to help us better understand that they come in many forms. We learned that creating texts was not just about writing essays. Today as a student turned to leave their conference they thanked me for teaching them. For letting them have a great last English experience. Another sat with tears in their eyes concerned that because they missed turning in a few assignments ( really most of them) they would be lucky if they passed the course. I sat across the table from them having just finished reading another one of their last-minute masterpieces with tears threatening to enter my eyes as I told them they were the best writer I have ever had the honour to work with. It was no exaggeration. Like Gholdy Muhammad has said, "we can't rush genius" and my land this child is just that.

I have always thought there had to be more to writing instruction than just rules and assignments. A collection of commands and compliance. Last year with the Patchwork kids we dipped our toes in choice and creative freedom. This year we dove in. There was not a student that didn't reflect on their growth and the fun that the class was. I am so proud of them. I am grateful they trusted me with their words. I am grateful that they joined me on this adventure.

As we started the year we watched Jason Reynolds spoken word presentation of "For Everyone" I asked the students to create multimodal based on lines that stood out or ideas that were inspired. That work is for another post. But at this moment I reflect on the line "Dreamer if you're like me jump anyway" These kids jumped with me and I am so grateful.


Some Writing From My Students (some of their fav poems)

Mint Jelly on Toast


My mother likes to put mint jelly on toast.


I never really liked the stuff

The flavour was overwhelming,

and the vibrant green colour was unnerving.

Yet while my sister and I sat,

with our Corn Pops and Honeycombs,

my mom would enjoy

Her weird green toast.


Somehow I completely forgot about the mint jelly.

It’s not the most common thing in stores

and I think my mom just started to eat less toast.

It wasn’t until several years later that I saw it again.

I was grocery shopping with mom

and sitting on the shelf was a little glass jar of vibrant green, mint jelly.

I asked who would buy such a thing?

I didn't believe her when she said that she used to have it all the time when I was young.


When we got home, I toasted some bread

and spread the toxic-looking paste.

The flavour was overwhelming,

and the vibrant green colour was unnerving.

Frankly, it was disgusting.

But suddenly I could remember all the times mom would sit and enjoy

Her weird green toast.


Even though I still don’t like it,

I know one day in the distant future,

I’ll buy a little jar of mint jelly again

and begrudgingly take a bite.

Just to remember

my mom and her weird green toast.


We may not live forever,

but through the influences we have on those around us,

we will find eternal life


I hope one day I can be

Someone's mint jelly on toast.


The Collector


There is nothing so terrifying as the moment when something permanent

becomes temporary.

When you reach out to grasp something so familiar you don’t even have to look to know it’s there,

but your hand only closes on air.


The coastline erodes, treasures are lost and broken,

Even your own life constantly hangs in balance,

and the tiniest grain of sand could tip the scales.


And life is a phenomenon where the only thing that’s guaranteed is uncertainty.

And if there’s one thing most of us can agree on,

Is that we know nothing

Have control over nothing


So we have evolved into metaphorical hoarders,

sometimes literal hoarders,

of the pieces of life that we have decided it is impossible to live without.

And buried somewhere in this

endless list of people and places and things,

is memory.


How many little moments have sifted through the sieve in my mind,

like fine grains of sand, filtering through gaps in the mesh of memory?

I wrestle with the knowledge that it’s a lottery roll

whether I remember any particular moment in my life.


It's like an enormous jigsaw puzzle,

and you think you have a complete picture but all the lights are out,

and all you can do is fumble through the darkness,

blindly feeling for the gaps

and missing pieces.


So I have become a collector of lost moments.

Scraps of paper and old receipts.

Hospital bands and brochures.

Countless grains of time collecting between pages,

Drifting into piles on my desk.


They would have been left behind

if I had not reached out and pulled them along with me

as the tides of time carried me away.

But they have no place in the present,

so I put them in boxes when I can’t find a place for them to belong.

Because nostalgia isn’t useful to most people,

but I make it my business.


Eventually, every bit of history becomes a memory made real,

and I start to believe time travel is possible.

All the stone walls and old halls still standing after all this time,

have figured it out millennia before humans ever will.

And even if I cannot travel into the future,

my words can,

my actions might.


And I will not be forgotten.


Handwriting


Everyone’s is different


The tiny muscles in our fingers all work the same way


But our brains, our brains don’t



We each see a paper as a blank canvas


Our minds waiting


To paint it with our own unique words



I’ve been told that you can read a person


By looking at their handwriting


And I wonder


About mine sometimes


Sharp lines


Closed a’s its indecipherable


If you can’t even read my writing


How could you possibly understand me?



What about the girl that I passed in the hallway?


She probably writes too


Maybe has a diary


Full of flowers and celebrity quotes


I’ll bet it looks different now

After what that boy did to her


She fills the pages with angry lines because


In the end, it’s better


For your pen to bleed for you


So you don’t even have to scratch yourself.



What about the young father about to sign his resume?


Schoolbook cursive, he dresses up his letters


Nice and fancy


In hopes, he can put food on the table.



What of the soldier


Sitting in a muddy ditch clutching an inkwell with shivering hands


Penning what may well be his last communication


To the ones he loves back home



What will he write?


Is there enough room


On that crinkled little page


For the volumes and volumes of pure longing


That haunts him like a bad dream



Our words live a lot longer than we do.


They are immortalized on pages


To be read again and again.


If I were to write an autobiography


I would title it


“I close my a’s because I write at a kindergarten level


But on the inside, I’m a hell of a historian.”


Because even though we die someday


Our words live on


That’s how paper works…


A Summit


What is your vision?


Where are you going?


There’s a mountain ahead of me

I can’t see the top from the bottom, but I know it's there

Beyond the thunderclouds, through caves, up sheer cliffs


One step

We’re alive


Another step

The path stretches out before us


I close my eyes


Success

We did it, didn’t we?

We made it

8 years of school, 4 of high school, 6 more years. university

Sleepless nights, looming due dates, hours of stress.

We got the job we always wanted.

We found the girl of our dreams

We pulled through,

Countless conversations act as companions on our journey

No one can take us to the top except for ourselves


What is our life now?

A slow march into the next world

Filled with the monotony of work and sleep and time

What happens now

We push through

One foot in front of the other

Scrambling up the shale

We slip

We fall

We try again

We cannot give up, we’ve seen giving up

There are people

Tears streaming freely, scratched knees, tired eyes

Bloody and broken

We’re broken too


Family

A warm embrace

Bandaging our hearts

We clear the path for them


The ground levels out now

I laugh and yell, exuberance fills my mind

This is it?

My soul shrinks away

Why


I stand now at the precipice of life and death

Nowhere left to go

Why isn’t it everything I thought

The view is incredible and terrible, and exciting and breathtaking

Miles of lives past stretch out below me

From here I see flowers and trees and rivers

Birds flit through the branches down there

A clear meadow

Soft grass

Warm sunshine


I didn't see those things as I passed

My focus was on the summit, the clouds in the distance

A storm coming in

I thought time was running out

I thought I was giving myself an advantage

I ignored those distractions

And now I’m at the top

Teetering on the verge of happiness and regret

I left my family behind, I sprinted those last few hundred meters

I look down at the valley of life spread out before me

I missed it

I made it

But I missed it


I open my eyes

I look up at that mountain

The path still stretches out in front of me

But now I see the flowers growing on the side

I hear the birds and the wind in the trees

I smell the petrichor and the grass and the spring breeze

And I take a deep breath

And another step






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