I teach 8th grade at Oak Park Preparatory Academy, and this past semester I had the privilege of having InsideOut Literary Arts Project complete a residency in my classroom. My writers-in-residence, Peter Markus and Mahogany Jones, came to two of my classes every Monday. Our classes are single gender, so they came to one girl class and one boy class. The focus was poetry writing. Specifically, they wanted the students to think about how they would describe themselves through metaphors, similes, and personification. Students had a really hard time letting go of their masks and getting real. We were concerned that they wouldn’t produce great poems. They fought us every step of the way–maybe because it can be uncomfortable to look inside yourself and see what is rattling around in there. But eventually, the students started to let go and surprise us with powerful, insightful pieces. We were often blown away by what they wrote.
At the end of the residency, all the poetry was collected, sorted, and published in a book for the students called Words Ain’t No Walk in the Park. Because my classes were small ones, students were able to have multiple pieces represented. I even had a couple of my own poems put in the book! We had a celebration to honor the work and have the students bask in their glory. Special guests from InsideOut and the district came to honor the students.
This was one of the most meaningful teaching experiences I have ever had in my 14 years of teaching. There was so much growth in the students and in me. When I read through our book of poetry, it is like visiting an old friend. And now, I discover something new each time I open the book and read my students’ words. This project moved the students forward more that any other unit we engaged in this year. The look of pure joy on their faces when they saw their name and words in print made the struggle worth it. I know that this will carry them for a lifetime. In fact, it is going to carry me too.
Excerpts from Words Ain’t No Walk in the Park:
by Shawntelle Avery
Love is like a strawberry.
Love is sweet.
Love is a light that never burns out.
Love is a book with no pages.
Love is a pencil with no eraser.
Love is a kiss with no lips.
Love is like the night with no moon.
Love is like dancing.
by Jason Leak
I’m always hidden
yet I am always
there. Why can’t
you find me? It’s like
you just threw me
away. I thought
you loved me.
Am I not
right here in
front of you.
Self-Portrait with Metaphors
by DeAndre Knott
My teeth are eggs cracking in a bowl of milk.
My legs are two bats hitting a home run.
My hands are snakes rattling in the grass.
My eyes are two meatballs waiting to be eaten.
My belly is a drum being played.
My ribs are a steel cage that will not open.
My heart is my heart.
Lisa Kraiza teachers eighth grade English Language Arts at Oak Park Preparatory Academy. She is also a member of the Core Leadership Team of the Oakland Writing Project.