Our Heart

Matt is the heart of our Block 8 class.  He is the head cheerleader, the trailblazer, the first one with the high five. He has been this way almost from the first week of school.  Somewhere along the way he decided he was going to love our co-taught class and he didn’t hesitate to tell us so. It was very affirming, I must admit.  Where one student might say, ‘This room looks like a kindergarten!” because of the colors, lighting, and comfy spots, Matt would walk in and say, ‘I just love this class. I feel like I can be myself in here.” Teresa and I would smile at each other and say, almost simultaneously, ‘That’s what we were going for!”

His goodwill is not reserved only for teachers, however.  When we read our writing aloud and someone is feeling shy, Matt will yell, ‘C’mon {insert name here} – you GOT this!’  When giving feedback, he always has a positive comment, even when Teresa and I are hard-pressed to think of one. He is also willing to put himself and his feelings front and center, thus allowing everyone else permission to do the same.  I think I can safely say he has had a positive influence on everyone in our classroom, include his teachers.

Yesterday we had our 2nd Annual Poetry Slam.  It was amazing. The poems were moving, funny, thought-provoking, and, in some cases, disturbing (in other words, exactly what poetry should be). The audiences were wildly enthusiastic, the judges impressed, and the teachers grateful that it went off without a hiccup. In order to be eligible for the ‘Grand Slam’ which involved all the other 7th grade English classes, students had to compete in a classroom slam. They read their poems and then a panel of 5 judges from within the class scored them on a score of 0 to 10.  Top and bottom scores are dropped, and the middle three added together to determine 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.

Matt was one of the winners for Block 8.  Along with him were two boys, Adam and Jax, with powerful poems of their own. In fact, when Matt heard the boys’ poems in practice, he threw out his original poem because he didn’t think it was as good as theirs was.  He spent days revising, tweaking, adding to his poem. He wanted Adam and Jax to see him as an equal. All three of them won the classroom round. On the day of the Grand Slam, they sat together in the auditorium, encouraging each other, teasing each other, and cheering each other (and the other poets) on. They were the only poets in any of the 7 blocks who cheered for poets who were not in their class.  They didn’t see it as a competition as much as a celebration.

Matt was more nervous than I have ever seen him.  He has begun to consider himself a writer which means the stakes for him are higher. What people think of his work really matters to him because it has become part of who he is as a person.  He performed well although he went a little too fast and I was afraid the judges might have missed some of the words.  Jax listened to the feedback from the class and read his poem perfectly, pacing exactly right and expression at the end when the poem demanded it.  Adam’s poem was brilliant – about life being a series of doors with choices all along the way – a metaphor with depth and beauty.  He read a little too fast as well, but the words were clear and strong. Teresa and I were so very proud.

Matt won first place. Sometimes the good guys win.