Friday, October 21, 2011

Poetry Friday: Villain

I started reading a draft from one of my students, and two lines into it I gasped. This was about me. I was the one who had caused this girl enough negative emotion to write the best thing she had written all year, something deep and heartfelt instead of the surface-y creations she had dashed off in order to satisfy my requirements.

Her work caused emotion in me, too. It hurt me enough that I had to put aside my grading for the evening. It made me cry. It was intended to sting, and it did.

But. As I thought about this more, I realized that I have taught my students that one way they can respond to pain, whether caused by an earthquake or a friend or - yes - an unfair teacher, is to write about it. And I realized that I have created a classroom environment where she feels safe writing about how angry she is with me. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I threw a fit and forbade her to write about the first thing that has moved her to good writing this year?

We did talk about her work. We talked about it as writing and I shared my interpretation of what had happened, which differed from hers. And then I did what I had taught her to do. I wrote about it.


It has come to my attention
that I am the villain in your story.

I knew I wasn't the heroine,
Because I never saved you from a burning building
Or carried you across a river
Or rescued your kitten.
But villain?

I do not even own a black cape.
I have no secret lair and no scary weapons.

What I am is your teacher
And you are a middle schooler.
And I guess those facts alone are enough for a villain's role.

You say I am lying in wait
Hoping you will mess up,
Taking pleasure in your failures.
You say I am accusing you
Of things you do not do.
You say I ruin your day.
I take your beautiful name
And write it upon my bad list,
The list of those who are In Trouble.
The injustices I visit upon you are legion.

For now, I am the villain in your story.
Surely no miscreant worth her salt would let that hurt her feelings
So I try to harden my heart.

I hope, dear student, that I am the worst villain you ever encounter
And that the ruination of your day caused by me
Is the low point of your life.
I hope that the stories you have to tell of me and my evil
Will be, by far,
The most traumatic
Recounted at your class reunions.

Ruth, from

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

(By the way, this week I was introduced to a new collection here. I wrote and asked Steven Withrow to send me the pdf of his book, Crackles of Speech. I'm very much enjoying it and I recommend you do the same!)


jama said...

What a tough situation, Ruth. Sorry to hear you were hurt by the student's poem. I think you handled it very very well. But as you said, it was her truth to write about, with emotions intense enough to translate into honest writing. A triumph for both of you, scars and all.

Donna Smith said...

I'm thinking that you may, in the end, become this student's favorite teacher. Keep up the communications!

maria horvath said...

This is my first visit to your interesting blog. I definitely shall be back.

And I am agree with the two commenters before me: that you and your student are on the right path.

All the best.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

This reminds me a lot of parenting! I hope my boys learn to use writing in the same way. You must be doing an excellent job!

GatheringBooks said...

Truly a difficult situation that demands grace and good judgment. How beautiful that you were able to respond to your (and your student's) pain through poetry.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

I hope, dear Ruth, that you know you are the opposite of hypocrite. You have met your student as an equal but stood strong in your role as model. To them it looks like we are villain until, wrapped in it, they realize our black cape is woven of love.

Thanks for sharing.

Tabatha said...

You handled that beautifully! Sometimes it's hard to be the grown-up.

Janet said...

I agree with Donna's comment above. Keep up the good work...

I think getting through the callous of a student's indifference is the biggest challenge, and clearly that's happened here. I hope it will be the beginning of something good.

Irene said...

I love the poem. Thanks for writing it, even though (and especially since) it was born out of such a painful situation.

Jessica Stock said...

It seems you handled this situation so well, I'm sure the student is reconsidering her judgment of you already.