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A Recap of My First Teaching Experience

For those that have read this blog for a while, a few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled “How Do You Respond to Failure” that was about how I had messed up my first opportunity to teach kids because of a date mix-up.  I beat myself up over it, but promised myself that I would try to make up for it by making it a priority and trying it again in the future.

Well, early last week I got contacted by a friend who teaches at a charter school here in Columbus about coming in to speak to his kids about poetry.  Excited about the opportunity, I said yes pretty much immediately.

There were some small differences between this workshop and the one I was scheduled to facilitate a few weeks back. The first difference was that the kids were significantly younger this time around. Last time around I was working with a lot of upper-class high school students, but this time it was middle-school kids that ranged from the 5th through the 8th grade. This meant I had to start from scratch and couldn’t use the presentation I used before. The second difference was that I had a little less time to prepare this time around, so I started preparing immediately. I tried to have my entire talk memorized a couple days ahead of schedule.

I admit that I had a bit of anxiety about doing this.  Most of it centered around the fear of oversleeping or mixing up the date again.  I wasn’t going for it this time.  I had the date written down everywhere and all types of alarms set in my house.  Basically, any device that had an alarm on it in my house was set!  I wasn’t gonna to get caught slippin’ this time around.  Oddly enough, I didn’t even need the alarms because I was so worked up that I could barely sleep! I was awake long before my wake-up alarm actually sounded.  I was also comforted by the fact that the school was only six miles from my house, so even if I would have overslept I could’ve made it there on time.

Since becoming a full-time artist, I have always been curious about teaching and working with kids.  My curiosity has only increased as I’ve learned more about the state of the education system in this country and the dire need for role-models in our classrooms and communities.   I had been offered opportunities to teach in the past but declined because I wasn’t sure if I had anything meaningful to offer. I also wasn’t sure that I was living the kind of lifestyle that I could tell kids about.  It’s funny how things change.  Shout out to my dude Cameron for inviting me into his classroom and allowing me to have this experience.

If I were to summarize my first teaching experience I would have to say that it was extremely rewarding and eye-opening.  I led two different hour-long sessions on poetry to classes that had about 20-30 kids in each of them.  I introduced myself, talked about poetry and writing, gave them some tips and a writing assignment, then had them write and share their own poetry.  It was awesome to see kids so excited about learning.  Seeing them so into writing poetry and sharing their thoughts inspired me immensely.

Some other thoughts:

  • I completely forgot how awkward most middle-school aged kids can be.  It reminded me that I wasn’t anywhere near as cool as I remembered myself being at that age.
  • Every single kid in there was an individual.  By that I mean that the way we tend to think of kids is that all kids are into specific things and communicate a specific way when they’re at a certain age.  I was reminded that they’re far from a homogeneous group.  They’re no more uniform than we are as adults.  In fact, it could probably be argued that they’re more unique and individual at that age than we are as adults because they haven’t been indoctrinated and fully assimilated yet.
  • Adults are jaded.  Young kids are not.  It’s beautiful.  As adults we need to be very careful about not letting our inner-child die.  There is a hope I saw in those kids that adults rarely have.
  • There was a 5th grade kid who was in the second session with a lot of 8th graders and he was super smart.  It threw me off for a second because even for a fifth grader he was kind of short.  He wrote an awesome poem and when he recited it the rest of the group went nuts and pretty much gave him an standing ovation.
  • Most of the kids in my first session were too nervous to read their work in front of the class and had their teacher do it, but almost every kid in the second session wanted to read their poem themselves.  Their entire group was really energetic.  So much so that we kind of ran out of time for them to present.  It was weird to see how different the energy could be even from one class to the next.
  • There was a hispanic girl who wrote her poem in spanish instead of english and I thought it was pretty adorable, even though I could only read about 20% of it.  She asked me if I could read spanish and I said only a little bit, and she asked me to review her poem.  It made me realize that I definitely needed to get back on top of my spanish.  It seems like the United States is the only country in the world where the majority of our population makes no attempt to learn a secondary language.  I think that says a lot about our willingness as a country to embrace other cultures.  Either way, I picked up a spanish book from the library this weekend because I would like to not contribute to that demographic anymore.
  • Speaking of demographics, I can’t help but think that we need more African-American males entering education.  In the same way that African-American children are empowered by seeing rolemodels and positive influences in their communities, they also need them in education.  Our community suffers from disproportionate drop-out rates and I believe a lot of it has to do with a cultural disconnect that effects the children’s self-esteem.  Obviously this isn’t something I can solve by myself, particularly since education as a whole in this country is in a dismal state, but I would like to make a conscious effort to try to do my part.
  • I would love to do this again.  While I realize I’m an artist who spends his time putting out albums and touring, I found this to be a really rewarding way to spend my down time.  After all, art and education aren’t that different in their fundamental premise, which is the sharing of ideas.  Speaking in front of children isn’t that much different from being on stage.  If you’re prepared and confident you can kill it, but if you’re not prepared they’ll eat you alive.

Overall, I’m so glad that I didn’t let the bad experience I had during my first attempt at teaching discourage me from doing this.  I was nervous but it got increasingly easier as it went on.   I walked away feeling like I had finally done something that was long overdue, and would gladly do it again.

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