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Why I Teach

Tonight I’m literally so overwhelmed by emotions that I don’t know what to write.

Today Pandora Scooter came to perform for my students, and she had a lot thrown at her. When I say a lot, I mean that we had an evacuation drill ten minutes into her performance! (At least now she can say she once evacuated an entire school while performing…) She incorporated the evacuation into her performance, and even offered to stay a bit longer if needed. Luckily, the evacuation only lasted a few minutes.

pandora library

When you forget your camera at home sometimes you have to improvise and use your webcam to take pictures.

Pandora performed a couple of her pieces for the crowd, which consisted of my Creative Writing students, the Journalism class, and members of the school literary magazine. I wasn’t sure how they would react. I knew that (most of) my students would love her, but I wasn’t sure how the others would react… especially when Pandora started talking about her different identities and sexuality.

She performed “Box,” which was received really well by the students.

She closed her performance by performing “Other,” which my students had watched in class.

At the end of the period, students were invited to stay and ask questions. They could head to their next period classes if they wanted. About half of the 50-odd students stayed, and I was blown away by the questions they asked.

“What inspires you?”

“How do you get over writer’s block?”

“Do you write poetry to perform, or do you just perform poetry you’ve already written?”

“What advice do you have for performers?”

And then…

“I don’t have a question. It’s more of a comment really. I just wanted to say I really connected with some of the things your poetry was about. I don’t really have any role models, and it meant a lot to hear you talk about that stuff. Thank you.”

Pandora said thank you, and the room clapped not for Pandora, but for the student, who had the courage to essentially come out in front of an entire library of peers. In high school, that’s tough. In a high school where there are very few out individuals and out role models, that’s even tougher.

I immediately wanted to cry, and I haven’t stopped thinking about that student all night. In October I wrote about why I didn’t come out on National Coming Out Day. I still stand by my reasons for deciding to not be out to my students, but today inspired me to make an exception. The student who doesn’t have any one to look up to or see that “it gets better” deserves a role model. (Side note: I’m not the biggest fan of the Dan Savage project, or him in general, but, as I spend more time in the teaching world I do see its point…although it’s important to recognize that, for everyone, it doesn’t always get better.)

There isn’t much else to say about today, except that I will always remember this day. Thank you, Pandora, for helping me see what it is my students need from me. And thank you, to that student, for being so brave. It’s students like you that remind me of how much I love making a difference.

letter pandora

I wrote this letter to my student because this student deserves to be recognized for the bravery that was displayed.

***Update, 12/14/2012***

The student wrote me back and I cried in the faculty room.