Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moose Goosing - Texas Style

Just back from a visit
to the Highland Park School district which hugs the city limits of Dallas Texas – We visited both the intermediate and the middle school which are joined at the hip in a state of the art complex.

Everything about the visit was great – the hotel, our poet wranglers Leesa and Sally couldn’t have been more on top of things and the students were attentive, lively and engaged. It would be easy to just gush about how peachy keen everything was – so let’s suffice to say the visit was top notch.

While there, we presented an impromptu teacher session for a rather diverse group from the district schools. We had high school English teachers, third grade classroom teachers, Spanish teachers and even some folks from the front office sit in on the session.

We talked about strategies using poetry as a tool for literacy and comprehension in the classrooms and then we ran a quick demonstration poetry slam with a handful of the attendees. Now since we hadn’t given any prior instructions to those attending the session, we provided the poems for the contestants to perform – in a real slam the participator would be performing their own material – but as we are modeling how to run one of these we give the teachers work to stage. We use verse by authors like Marge Piercy, Billy Collins, Marc Smith, Langston Hughes and our ringer Mason Williams.

The subject matter of the pieces range from rivers, bonsai trees, teaching poetry, paternal relationships to moose goosing – that’s Mason’s contribution – a humorous piece about well, sticking your thumb in a moose’s hiney. Invariably the piece about moose goosing will win the slam and we use this as a teaching moment – explaining that the chance of actually picking your best poet via a poetry slam is pretty slim. But, what we do advocate as the real benefit of using slam in schools is the fun and excitement that surrounds the whole event – making writing and sharing a playful activity rather than a source of anxiety.

So as usual – Mason’s piece won the slam and the woman who performed it had the rest of the audience shrieking with laughter and stomping their feet. Then, something very interesting happened. From what I gathered later, this participant held some sort of authority position in the school – her job required her to expedite tasks required of the rest of the teachers so she spent a lot of her day asking co-workers where this bit of info was, when will I get this, have you finished that yet…

This is the persona that the others in the room knew her by. They had no idea that she could belt out a piece about sticking an umbrella into a moose’s bottom with such gusto. It was reported to me that one teacher commented that they had no idea this person was so much fun, since all previous interactions were task expediting centered – this person even went on to say – “I think I’d like to go out for lunch with her sometime.”

THIS is what bringing the arts into the forefront of a school can do. It can change relationships, open eyes, give people the opportunity to show another side of their personality. I can really empathize with our moose-gooser. I have organized innumerable events and been the task master on many occasions. It is a lonely job at times and never garners the appreciation equal to the effort expended. We moose-goosers have to learn to be satisfied with the awareness of a job well done whether we receive public accolades or not (or in the worst case scenario – watch as others claim the glory for our efforts.)

So this post is for all those moose-goosers out there, you know who you are – the ones who make things happen on time – see that the check is in the mail – cross the T’s and dot the I’s – feed the visiting author - make those calls to the procrastinators and are general pains in the butt for the greater good. Wipe off your thumbs and point them to the sky!

Thanks for a job well done!

photos by Leesa Cole

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