Tuesday, March 24, 2020

2020 Post #10 -- Trapped

by Nate Harris

During my first week teaching 9th grade English Language Arts, I gave my students what I thought was a simple writing diagnostic to complete, which asked them to do the following: Write about a time in your life when you felt trapped. You may write about being trapped physically or being trapped in some other sense, perhaps socially or emotionally.

After a few minutes of silent writing, one of my two English Language Learners, a 13-year-old girl from Russia, raised her hand. She proceeded to shyly ask me what the word “trapped” meant, and I did my best to give her a personal definition, followed by several examples. Not two minutes later, the same scenario played out with my other ELL student, a girl from Spain.

It was this scenario that inspired me to use Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem "Sympathy" to introduce the concept of feeling trapped and review the poetic elements of rhyme scheme, end rhyme, and imagery.

As the year progressed, I also connected the poem to the themes of oppression and the power of empathy and sympathy that appear throughout my curriculum in texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Night. In order to fully make these connections, it is important to note (while introducing the poem) that Dunbar’s parents were born slaves, and so his voice as an observer of the oppressed and formerly oppressed is authentic and credible.

Further Reading:

Nate Harris is in his sixth year of teaching English Language Arts, and is excited and humbled to be a part of a collection of inspirational ideas. He has not had any social media since his senior year of college, but he can be reached at nharris@cbsd.org.

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