On November 13, 2017, my friend and colleague Matthew Zapruder started a thread on Facebook seeking ideas for teaching poetry to kids. Matthew is not just a writer of most-memorable lines, but also the author of Why Poetry (Ecco, 2017) and a veteran teacher of verse—but not to elementary school students. His friends delivered in spades, brainstorming, sharing tips, and showing their own offbeat creativity. It all made for a bracing palaver about poetry.
A few years ago I was on a plane, flying home to Arizona, when I noticed a Mexican teen and two burly white guys that seemed to be his escort. Coming from Arizona, I found this picture all too familiar. I was watching an undocumented immigrant on the first leg of a deportation to Mexico, escorted by two ICE agents.
When the seat belt light went off, I got up, walked over and asked the ICE guys if I might talk to the young man. They allowed it. The 18-year-old had been brought here by his parents when he was three. America was his home, he was a good student with good grades, and he never broke the law.
I teach ninth grade English at Dominguez High School in Compton, California. In June, I completed my first year as an English teacher, and it was no small feat. Prior to my English gig, I taught music for nine years. The leap from music to English, from elective to compulsory, frightened me. My fear morphed to frustration as I tried teaching my students how to write. I didn’t know how to help them improve their writing. Then the rookie English teacher gods knocked some sense into my head and said, “Ebony, you have to teach them grammar—explicitly.”