A friend of mine is an online teacher of 8th and 9th graders this year. Usually an in-classroom math teacher, this year she wanted to teach 100% online due to Covid-19, so she agreed to teach the full slate of subjects to students who opted for full-time online courses. After the holiday break, she had assigned her students to write a short story on any topic, with very few restrictions. When she began to read the stories, she was blown away by how mature, creative, and articulate these kids were and how amazing their stories were. (Her surprise is understandable, since until this year, she was a 5th-grade math teacher and hasn’t had much experience with teaching Language Arts). She called me to ask, “What should I do to encourage these kids? How do I help them?”
We talked about fiction, essays, and poetry, and I sent her some handouts from when I lead a “writing club” of sorts for a 9th grade class a few years ago. One of the things I also sent to my friend was a link to the performance of the poem “Touchscreen,” by Marshall Davis Jones. I had shown this poem to my writing club as one example of how modern poetry can be relevant to them and their modern lives (as opposed to the stereotypical 19th century stuff most students seem to associate with poetry). The kids in my group loved that poem and performance so much that they requested I show it to them again at the end of many of our weekly sessions. Yes, that’s right. Those recalcitrant 9th graders that adults struggle to understand actually begged to watch a poem being recited.
Which brings me to last week….
Minutes after seeing America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman read her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” for President Biden’s inauguration, I texted my friend and told her to add that performance to her list of poetry to show her students. I also suggested she research Gorman’s personal history (overcoming a speech impediment, etc.) to share with her students. My friend wrote back that she was way ahead of me—she was already creating a lesson plan around Gorman’s poem. Then 15 minutes later, she texted “Teachers are fast!” and sent me links to two websites that had already devised and laid out lesson plans around Gorman’s poem. (See “Teach This: ‘The Hill We Climb’ and the 2021 Inauguration” and “Lesson Plan: Discuss 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem ‘The Hill We Climb’.”
I don’t know about you, but I find this breathtaking. Even as I write this, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s poem is flooding classrooms and classZooms all across our nation, and likely it will continue to do so for many years to come. Just think of the souls, hearts, and imaginations that poem will touch. Even better, think of the sparks of ideas, justice, unity, activism, creativity, art, identity, and determination that will be kindled or nurtured because of this mighty poem from a “skinny black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother.”
Thank you, Amanda Gorman, for inspiring the next generation of Americans to be “brave enough” to be the light of the new dawn.