Hey Teacher, Rip That Shit!
As the school year progresses, the children get more bearable while the adults become harder and harder to stomach. If teaching were truly “just about the kids” I think that I could get into it for more than my contractual commitment. Unfortunately, my life is more driven by the Board of Education, Superintendant Rudy Crew, the Zone henchmen, and irritating irate parents sent to my goddamn classroom bitching at me to change their son’s well-deserved F.
Whew. The parent scandal must be saved for another day, for that drama has yet to play itself out.
Regarding the children…
Upon the conclusion of the infamous halfway point: the Second Nine Weeks, I set forth on a brand-new topic: poetry! Now, structured verse might just be one of my all-time favorite literary topics (just behind metacritical mysteries, of course), and I believe that my enthusiasm shows through the teaching. It also makes “lesson planning,” the scraps of words thrown together on a formatted paper, exceptionally easier.
Having introduced my English classes to a few of the more formal poetic terms like meter and rhyme, my first real poetry lesson was upon me. Also, it came to my attention that a few ground rules for poetry were necessary, due to the debacle of 1st Period’s reception of “The Jabberwocky” and my rendition of “Where Go the Boats” as the lullabye that my mother used to sing at bedtime. Knowing full-well that two vocal performances in a row might just do me in, I fearlessly (or stupidly) plunged ahead and picked up the next day with my planned lesson: Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” For those of you unaccustomed to the text, as a depressingly large number of my colleagues here were, I will reproduce it here.
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;–
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
She was a child, and I was a child.
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love–
I and my Annabel Lee–
With a love that the winged seraphs in Heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud by night
Chilling my Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not so happy in Heaven.
Went envying her and me;
Yes! That was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud chilling
And killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we–
Of many far wiser than we–
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride
In her sepulcher there by the sea–
In her tomb by the side of the sea.
This exquisite lyric example of Poe’s delusions (or genius, depending on your poetic bent) comes equipped not only with a regular rhyme scheme, but excellent examples of non-irritating internal rhyme, and a regular meter. Thus, with those three structural elements, it closely resembles another form of contemporary rhythmic art: rap.
After a brief historical context of my homeboy E.A.P., I read through the poem, and we discusses the aforementioned poetic conventions of rhyme and rhythm. I then asked for a volunteer from the class to drop a beat so that we could see how anything with an organized beat can be spoken rhythmically. This was slightly less successful in my first period, when the children all started laughing hysterically when I broke it down. One refreshingly frank young lady said “hey y’all, you gotta give it to her, she was workin’ it.”
I was even more leery of trying this experiment on my 2nd period class, usually my worst behavior issues. However, I knew that several kids freestyle relatively seriously, so it might be worth the risk. It took about 10 minutes of waffling and embarassed adolescent insecurity before one student dared attempt the first stanza. His stamina wore down around stanza four, so I picked up for the last two. Their eyes fixed on me, with my eyes staring down at the ‘lyrics,’ I could see smiles and incredulous faces as I (according to the former bane of my existence, H.) “ripped that shit.”
For the first time in second period, I smiled; I laughed. Several minutes later, after a short closing lecture, we finished our introduction to poetic forms, and the children listened to me. It’s a pretty heady feeling to have kids who have thrown paper at you, called you a bitch, told you that you don’t know how to do your job, and outright defied any modicum of authority which you’ve tried to establish actually give you a look of respect. After my performance, H. was smiling up at me, but I was afraid to hear what biting comment he had to say.
I was shocked, and a bit touched to hear bestowed upon me the most venerated adjective in the urban Miami youth’s vocabulary: “gangsta.” “Damn, Ms. Williamson, you gangsta!” Thus went my 15 minutes of Miami Central fame. I’d made a brief breakthrough, touched some kids with a piece of poetry written over a century before by some dead white guy, and felt pretty damn proud of myself for doing so. Maybe things would get better after this, right? I mean, I’d made a connection with these kids, established a bond of trust, right?
H. transferred from Central on Monday morning, during the transition to block scheduling. My wishes from December came true: I’ll never see him again in my life.