I recently had the chance to meet with one of our teaching artists, Spoken Word maestro-extraordinaire Deaidre White. I asked her about most memorable students and moments from her Spoken Word classes.
Tracy Wu: Tell me about a recent moment when a student surprised you in one of your classes.
Deaidre White: A surprising moment was when an 8th grader asked me to read some of her poems because she’s thinking of applying to the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA). I didn’t even know that students in this class wanted to go to SOTA. It’s a really competitive public school for performing and visual arts, with a really extensive application process.
“I learned that I can facilitate a discussion even when I totally disagree with what’s being discussed, or with the statements that are being made.”
To be that sure of something this early in life is really, really cool. That surprised me, her research to find out if she can make it happen—just getting together the resources—because she’s not one of the students that I had in my class last year. I had never even met her, but she was like, “Hi…um, you write poetry, you teach poetry, so can you help me with this application process?” That was cool!
TW: So you’ve been an unexpected resource! Awesome! What have you learned about yourself as a teaching artist with Performing Arts Workshop?
DW: I’ve learned to be more patient as a teacher. My students are 13 years old and they already have these ideas and worldviews that are so damaging. I learned that I can facilitate a discussion even when I totally disagree with what’s being discussed, or with the statements that are being made.
I’ve also learned that there are some things—no matter how plain you make them or how many examples you give—that are just not going to be understood right away. You’re going to spend more time on things you didn’t even think would be an issue. I didn’t think I was going to teach metaphors, but it looks like I will. I’m learning to be adaptable.
TW: What’s your favorite activity for the first day of class?
DW: I do this call and response activity.
Me: When I say spoken, you say word. **Spoken! **
Me: When I say to be, you say heard. To be!
It’s a lot of fun to get the kids screaming because there are a lot of times in school when students are generally expected to be quiet.
TW: Can you name an unexpected lesson you have learned from students?
DW: To always have a backup plan. With middle school students, everything is so hit or miss. For example, my plan today was to have a conversation about the content of a poem, but they wanted to have a conversation about how immigrants look.
TW: How about a favorite moment when you could see that something had just clicked for a student who previously had been struggling in class.
DW: We played a game recently called When I Draw a Line, and we couldn’t move on until everyone figured out—without verbal communication—the objective, which was to draw a line. Watching everyone try to help their classmates without talking was hilarious. Once the last girl figured it out, even before she had even finished drawing her line, it was like a party in the class. They like listening, and they often ask to play games like that.
Deaidre White uses poetry to tell the stories of those who have forgotten that they had a story to tell. Deaidre is the host of afterWords, a monthly open mic at the Grand Lake Coffee House in Oakland, as well as the co-host of the San Francisco Slam and the Golden State Slam. Her debut album “All the Things You Can’t Take With You” was released on Zoe4Life Records and features guest appearances from nerCity and Chas Jackson. You can read her complete biography here.