Friday, April 27, 2012

Student Achievement Best Practices in Unlikely Places

Tupac in April

 By Lori Lustig, Special Education Teacher

Student achievement best practices can be gleaned from almost anyone and from anywhere.
image courtesy of
The poetry unit got off to a bad start. The tenth grade English class didn't respond any better to the poetry in the English text book, than they did to Romeo and Juliet. And they didn't like Romeo and Juliet at all.  Tough crowd.

Onto April and poetry. Pablo Neruda told us how poetry changed his life as a teenager.  I had them read poems that should have grabbed the attention of an adolescent: "Nikki Rosa" by Nicholas Giovanni, and "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks.  I  thought they would love these pieces.  They were short, I thought they could relate to the content.

No dice.

Kenya had his head down, Elma told me repeatedly it was the most boring thing we ever did.(Hard to get under the bar that the Romeo and Juliet unit set). The dean was making frequent visits to the room.

It didn't help.

And then I rode the bus home with the math teacher. In his sonorous deep Jamaican voice he suggested I look at a poem by Tupac Shakur, "The Rose that Grew in Concrete."

I am a middle-age woman why would I look at a rapper's words?  Weren't they misogynists? Aren't rappers lyrics filled with obscenities?

But I looked at the poem. No obscenities. I found a YouTube clip of Tupac reading it aloud.  I played it in class the next day and Kenya picked up his head.  Elma asked me to play it again.

Like the rose that grew in concrete, I found the “crack” not in an expensive poetry anthology, but on a city bus seat shared with a colleague.  I read more poetry by Tupac and found myself questioning my preconceived notions about rappers and popular culture.                        

Tupac, he did change everything. I was the cause of much mirth throughout the unit since I never did figure out how to say his name quite the right way.

The dean still needed to make frequent visits.

The room still looked like a war zone when the period was over.

But Elma and Kenya and the other tenth graders read and wrote poetry that April. And talked about it. Sometimes even in the cafeteria.

Maybe April really isn't the cruelest month.

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