Bright Spots: Two Incidents of Hope While Teaching In the Inner City
Many of you
know I have been teaching in the inner city public schools these last two
years. I wrote about my experiences teaching kindergarten last year, but I haven’t written anything yet about
this, my final year teaching in the public schools (returning home to the Waldorf School). Now that the dust has settled, I would like
to share two bright moments that occurred with two different students. There were many others, of course, but these two stand
out for me.
After a few
months I decided to by and large pitch the curriculum. It was senseless, lifeless, scripted, and meaningless
to the students. I began to tell and
read them stories from the Norse and Greek Myths. The students loved them. One day as I was telling the story of
Persephone, one of my most behaviorally disturbed students (she ended up being institutionalized
without notice three months later—one day she was there, the next she was gone
and I never saw her again) stood up from her desk, walked to the front of the
room where I stood, and literally sat at my feet, on the floor, like a
kindergartener. And no one said a
word. The other students understood her
desire to be up close and listening. They
opened up the space and she sat, cross-legged, elbows on her knees, face
upturned. I gave her a little nod and just kept telling
the story. She looked up at me with wide, wondering eyes.
It was such a gesture of innocence on her part. I will never forget it. She understood the power of stories. I pray that wherever she is, she is writing the
story of her life with hope, and that she will one day be totally free from her
own personal Hades.
I had this
one boy in my class who was wrought with rage.
He was a large boy for his age—built like a high school football player
but he was only 11. He was violent both
verbally and physically, with a temper that was lightening quick. When he went off he could not stop his
outbursts until someone or something was damaged. You can guess he had experienced tremendous
violence in his life. But he also (as
all children do) had a heart of gold. He
was a great, fiery leader. He was also a
wonderful artist. I used to let him draw
for hours instead of doing his school work.
Not only did it calm him down, it enriched his soul-life. Besides, the curriculum bored him (rightfully
One day as
his birthday approached, I was meditating about him, and a poem came to
me. I wrote it down and gave it to him
as a present. First I read it to him, and
then he read it silently to himself, his mouth moving slowly as he did. When he was finished he looked at me with his sly, piercing eyes. Then he carefully
folded the poem and placed it in his pocket.
poems,” he said.
“I’d love to
read some,” I said.
But he didn’t
say anything else. He just went back to
his desk. He didn’t say thank you. He didn’t need to. I knew it touched him. Here is the poem:
in waves through and through my heart
the darkness into light.
rose from the smoking wreckage,
eyes like fiery moons,
And flew to
day, he came in and tossed two pieces of paper on my desk.
“What are these?” I asked.
said proudly, “I wrote them last night.”
I picked them up and started to read. As I read his poems, tears formed in my eyes.
“Yo, you cryin’?” he laughed.
“These are beautiful.”
“Really?” he said.
“Really,” I said, “they’re wonderful. Thank you for sharing them.”
“Why you cryin’?”
“Sometimes I cry when I read beautiful things.”
“Those is beautiful?” he asked.
“Yes, very much so.”
“You can keep’um,” he said.
“Really? Do you have your own copies?” I asked.
“Yes.” And then he carefully took out a thick book from his backpack. It was a scrap book that held his drawings and his poems.
“See?” he said, “I wrote them in here too.”
As I looked at the copies in his scrap book, I noticed that he had folded the poem I had written for him so that only the words would show, and taped it next to his.
“Thank you for the poems, “I said, “I will keep treasure them always.”
He smiled and went to his desk. “Keep writing,” I said.
He turned and looked at me, but didn’t say another word.
In the face of living in a war-zone, this boy–this boy with the heart of a lion, will one day help change the world.
Here are his poems:
My Throne of
In my dream
I see red chair of kings,
of bees, golden diamonds of cars,
metal of bricks, fire of diamonds,
In my dream,
I am king of the majestic horses.
poem is untitled:
I am tall as
a golden dragon.
I am Big as
a Brown forest.
I am strong
as a majestic horse.
I am as
friendly as a baby bunny.
I am wild as
a brown, scary lion.
I am shining
as a golden diamond.
I am busy as
a black bear.
myself, Majestic Eagle.
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog