Thursday, March 1, 2018

1 of 31: The Little Black Box Theater

1 of 31: The Little Black Box Theater

So here's how I know it's March: I just politely excused myself from my book club (where I was very much enjoying the conversation) by stating that I had to go home and "slice." Immediately, I was asked with arched eyebrow, "What is a slice?" Well, to be concise, slicing is writing this very blog. Every. Single. Day. In. March.

It is a challenge. A challenge that over 50 students have decided to undertake, joining my teaching partner and me as we write every day in March, and I couldn't be happier to start.

Here's how I know that I secretly love this very daunting challenge, I crafted fifty leads in my mind for this very post (all probably better than the one I typed above) on the drive home. Too bad I couldn't dictate my blog. Rest assured that you would have been hooked by now...just please keep reading.

So let's rewind 7 hours.

I'm herding twenty-one eighth graders into a small, dark theater in my district's sole high school. The drum line's beat echos in my chest. We fill the first two and a half rows. What I don't realize at the time is that over 100 high school students and a smattering of parents and teachers will fill every single one of the remaining seats, overflowing to the small balcony above. It's standing room only.

These eighth graders wrote poetry, and we're here for them to take the stage.

As the M.C. kicks off the show, and it is a show, I fidget nervously in my seat. I'm thinking this must be what parents feel like all the time. My pulse quickens. I worry about my young writers. I silently pray that they don't trip up the two steps as they make their way to the microphone, that they don't misspeak, that no one heckles them, that they get applause. I take a deep breath and steady myself as the lights dim even further and I realize that it is now out of my hands.

And that's when a beautiful junior, one of my former middles school students, is introduced. She takes the stage and delivers a passionate spoken word poem that strikes my very core. She doesn't just take the stage, she commands the stage. Her voice will not be silenced. Her message will not be ignored. And while I ponder her thoughts about race, justice, and allegiance, there is a moment when all I can see is her as a seventh grader in braces sitting at the back table in my classroom, and it humbles me to witness just how far she's grown and the volume of her voice. She commands attention. She will be heard. It is the snaps I hear from the back of the small black box theater that send a slight shiver down my spine and remind me that I am not the only one who heard her.

Before I know it, she's exiting the stage and the M.C. is introducing our eighth graders. I find myself on the edge of my seat. At this point, I'm a little clammy. I desperately want this to go well for these students. I feel like the bar was set pretty high, but as the first poet is introduced, I watch in awe as she steps onto the stage (without tripping by the way) and adjusts the microphone and tells me just how thoughtful she is. And then the next poet talks about her image and mirrors and lies and seeing ourselves for who we really are and not what society says we have to be. And then I hear a poet talk about pain and anxiety and being able to admit her struggles. And then...well...and then, I just sit back and let the wise words of eighth graders continue to wash over me and rejuvenate me and reaffirm all I love about teaching English. I left contemplating how "no one can love you like you can love yourself" and I took solace in the fact that it is these voices that will lead and shape the landscape of this country in the years to come.

For they may not vote now, they may be just "teenagers," but their voices were heard today in the little black box theater, and I have more than a sneaking suspicion that their voices will be heard again in the not so distant future.


  1. I heard them through you. Powerful first slice. You took me right into it and yes, I was hooked. The imagery you painted as the first poet takes the stage, had me tilting my head back in forth in awe of the astute usage of words like 'commands the stage' and 'not be silenced'. I feel her stance, her tone, and your admiration for her taking on this role. I loved it. Thank you for sharing it today. I needed this. Looking forward to seeing what you've come up with throughout the challenge!

  2. I couldn't agree with you more: Our teenagers are savvy communicators who, because of their social media aptitude, have developed very thick skin and won't be silenced. Thanks for sharing!

  3. You are such a wonderful teacher, and I'm glad you've gotten to experience this twice now! I felt like I was right there with you.

  4. Incredible, I'm going to really enjoy your challenge as well, your writing is exceptional!:)