Second Grade for the Second Time


I have not been inside a primary school in decades and was immediately intimidated upon entering the school. The walls of P.S. 316 were adorned with posters, kid’s art, school announcements and flyers that sent me reeling back to my days in elementary school. I navigated past the loud cafeteria and students running amuck in the hallways.

I felt somewhat relieved when I found my internship partner, Javan Howard, in the main office. We made our way to our assigned classroom where we met our mentors, Teaching Artists Katie Issel Pitre and Max Allbee, in the hallway. We had met them before during a parent’s night. But meeting our 2nd graders for the first time was something else.

I was nervous, but, upon entering the room, all my apprehension melted and I fell in love with these little people right away. I have taught poetry workshops at public libraries to groups of varying ages, but seeing these second graders was entirely different. Javan and I sat in chairs at the back of the classroom, our oversized bodies folded into cramped seats made for people much smaller than us. As Katie and Max began the lesson, I took a moment to simply look at the kids and remember when I was their age. It awed me to think of the incredible potential that lies within them. What couldn’t they grow up to be?

As our mentors moved through a follow-along song for the opening ritual, Javan and I looked at each other and quickly recognized the techniques that we had learned during our Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP) seminars at Communty-Word Project. They taught us how to identify varying multiple intelligences and we saw how our mentors used this information in the way they implemented the activities.

Reading the lesson plan the night before and seeing it applied the next day was very rewarding. Max shared his artwork, a painting of the community, to inspire kids to think about what a community is and to help them think about words to describe it. Katie read from Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon by Ruth Forman. I was reminded of when I would help with story-time in my days as a library assistant. I began thinking about what I could do with my turn as the teacher. My Teaching Artist training was coming into sharp focus.

Katie and Max handed out the students’ papers to continue completing sentences and developing their poems. Javan and I could hardly wait to jump in and start helping the students. Because it was our first day, I was careful to do more observing than participating.

I noticed that when students did not know how to spell a word, Max told them to “say it out loud,” rather than doing the work for them. Students at my table kept asking me how to spell words. With my training as a poet, I realized that to say the word out loud does indeed help materialize the poem on the page. I am thinking of the famous line by poet Charles Olson: “The head by way of the ear to the syllable; the heart by way of the breath to the line.” A moment of magic came when I told an eager student to say the word out loud over and over again as he simultaneously tried to write it. Then I saw his little lips moving and his pen writing away, accurately spelling words. Later that nigh, I joked with my partner that that kid he was going to grow up to be a great speller. 

From the beginning, I sensed that the students had taken a liking to me. That day my mentor forgot to introduce me. The kids pointed out that I needed to be introduced too. Apologetically, my mentor said, “Oh, yes, and Mr. Paco, too.” I watched them repeat my name over and over and I was happy to see them wave at me as I left the classroom.

Javan and I went to a coffee shop to talk about our next assignment as TATIP inteerns. We discussed our experiences from the day. I had several ideas running through my head. I mentioned how teaching one or two kids had been great, but could only imagine what it will be like to lead the discussion with a large group of energized and jumpy second graders. We are excited, looking forward to that wonderful challenge. 

-Paco Marquez, Poet, TATIP Trainee