Thursday, March 26, 2009

a little blessing from third grade

For the second time in two weeks I awakened to dense fog, and today I've been infatuated with the way the soft white causes other things, like open barn windows, and wet tree trunks, to stand out in stark relief. Which is intriguing, that something so untouchable and ethereal brings out the sharp edges of the things it surrounds.

For some reason, today's fog made me remember third grade, which was the year I was skipped ahead to a fifth grade class. It was a hard year for me, but for a part of that year we had a student teacher, whose name I can't recall, but I do remember the way she looked.

She had an intense passion for teaching and particularly for literature and poetry, and one of our assignments was to write a poem and then prepare it for display.

The poem I wrote was titled Mr. Mist and although I do not remember it entirely, I can recall a few lines, and the fact that the poem personified mist as a man who came wearing a "brown hat and cloak." I clearly remember being very excited about using the word cloak, which I'd obviously read in a book and while no one around me ever used that word, I loved it and wanted to incorporate it into my poem.

We had to read our work out loud, which was difficult for me, as I was very shy. It was also difficult because my audience, the fifth graders, had all written very funny, silly limerick style poems and mine was so serious and full of metaphor and imagery they just sat there while I read it, which I took as negative critique of the highest order.

The student teacher had pulled me aside earlier in the day to tell me how wonderful the poem was, and to praise the various elements I'd used, most of which were new to me. She was clearly excited about my work, and I remember her giving me a little hug, and saying how proud she was to hang the poem on the bulletin board. I'd copied it in newly-learned cursive handwriting and taped it onto a piece of bright yellow construction paper, and the incongruity and intention of that choice also made her smile. I explained that I wanted to make the contrast visible - the sunshine yellow paper for a poem that was all about mist and darkness.

That I recall all these details so vividly, all these years later, makes it obvious that her attention that day meant a lot to me, and I'm sure it was one of the earliest moments when I felt like someone else saw me for what I felt I was - a writer.

And how perfect it is that today, surrounded by mist and fog and the dark shapes made more intense, that wonderful feeling has come forth again, fully formed, a little blessing.


Grey Horse Matters said...

It's wonderful that you can remember so much about your poem from such a young age. I think it must have been so hard for you to be skipped ahead at your age, but it's equally good that you had a great teacher who understood and promoted your writing.
I actually remember a teacher and her name when I was in 9th grade who told me I was a very good writer and she published my short story in the school paper. I never forgot how nice she was to me and how good she made me feel.

billie said...

It's interesting to think back on the early mentors, isn't it?

I don't know if my memories from early school years are so clear b/c of the difficulties or whether I just have a good memory, but I have many clear, strong memories from kindergarten on. Even so, I wish I had more!

The Zoo Keeper said...

Aren't teachers like her wonderful? I wonder if they know that some of their students think of them once in a while all these years later. I hope they know.

I had a special teacher, too. She was the elementary school librarian and sometimes I got to be her little assistant. Just having a nice adult notice me and involve me with things really helped. It made me feel interested and appreciated. Afternoons in the library with Ms. Kinney were the highlight of fourth and fifth grades for me. Third grade has sort of... disappeared. But that's another story.

I love {{{{your}}}} third grade story. I miss having one of my own, so thank you for telling yours. It made me smile.

billie said...

You are welcome to share my third grade with me, if you like! :)

billie said...

And as I continued checking email this morning, look what was there:

Teaching Poetry to 3rd Graders

At recess a boy ran to me
with a pink rubber ball and asked
if I would kick it to him. He handed me the ball,
then turned and ran
and ran and ran, not turning back
until he was far out in the field.
I wasn't sure I could kick the ball
that far. But I tried,
launching a perfect and lucky kick.
The ball sailed in a beautiful arc
about eight stories high,
landed within a few feet of the 3rd grader
and took a big bounce off the hard playground dirt.
Pleased, I turned to enter the school building.
And then (I don't know where they came from
so quickly) I heard a rumbling behind me
full tilt. They were carrying pink balls and yellow balls
of different sizes, black and white checkered
soccer balls. They wanted me to kick for them.
And now this is a ritual—this is how we spend recess.
They stand in line, hand me the ball and run.
The balls rise like planets
and the 3rd graders
circle dizzily beneath the falling sky,
their arms outstretched.

"Teaching Poetry to 3rd Graders" by Gary Short, from 10 Moons and 13 Horses.

daringtowrite said...

Oh Billie, What a lovely memory!

billie said...

Thanks, Wenda - good to see you here. I had a feeling some of my writer/readers might enjoy this one. :)