What I Make…

I was inspired today upon seeing this video of Taylor Mali’s inspirational poem cleaned up a bit (aka censored) for a teacher’s in-service audience.

“What I Make”

Somehow, we [teachers] always feel as if we need to defend ourselves and our profession to justify the moderate incomes we make. I’m not sure why because every day, I’m confident I’ve made a difference in my students lives (in one way or another)…

Today I made a difference in Austin’s life because the assignment was to memorize and dramatically perform a poem (Poetry Out Loud) in front of his classmates as in-class lesson on performance, dramatic readings, a confidence builder in speaking before an audience and as a preliminary round in the school-wide Poetry Out Loud competition. For weeks we’ve been working on this. Austin has been very vocal about NOT wanting to do this assignment because he was afraid he couldn’t memorize the poem (a fairly challenging piece) and he would “suck” at performing it in front of an audience. So over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been giving him some extra attention to help bolster his confidence.
I allowed students to volunteer to go to the head of the class today for their performances until the eager ones (or those simply who wanted to get it over with) had all volunteered. About half of the class still had yet to perform. “Last chance for volunteers,” I said, “before I begin calling out names.” Not one single brave soul. So I thought let me MAKE Austin go, just get it out of his system, get it over with, so he could breath for the rest of class. “Austin,” I call out making direct eye contact. “Oh, seriously, Mrs. Carbone?” I replied, “Go on, Austin, I’m doing you a favor.” The audience giggled a bit, I think nervously for him. He begins, shyly, barely making eye contact. His voice is low, but commanding. He’s even using inflection, I think to myself. He gains courage as he continues– he’s got the whole audience in his grasp. His voice grows louder, more confident. He looks up, purposefully, owning his moment. The whole audience claps w/ vigor. Austin smiles and returns to his seat, back erect– smile planted on his face. At the conclusion of all the performances, I ask students to raise their hands to nominate those who were commanding and passionate about their readings– those they felt would be successful in moving forward to the school-wide competition. The third person nominated was Austin; I write his name on the white board. He’s smiling. After about 8 out of 24 names go up on the board, I allow students who really are not interested in the competition to decline before a class vote. Austin is 1 of 2 students to decline. He apologizes to me and says, “It’s really not my thing, Mrs. Carbone.” I could tell he felt as if he was letting me down a bit. “Austin, it’s okay, I’m just so proud that you did it and found out you were better than you thought you could be.” He smiled again, “Yeah, Mrs. Carbone,” he said, “I did it.”
I can’t take credit for Austin’s performance because he accomplished that all on his own. But I can take credit for providing him w/ the opportunity, one he was clearly uncomfortable w/, as well as coaching and encouraging him. I MAKE students step outside their comfort zones in order to challenge themselves. I Make students realize they can be successful. No amount of money can be placed on that accomplishment. None.


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