Introduction: Talk about what it means to fit in and what makes some people different. Ask students if they’ve ever felt that they didn’t fit in. Tell them we’re going to read a poem about what that feels like.
Read the Poem:“Speech Class (for Joe)”
by Jim Daniels
We were outcasts—
you with your stutters,
me with my slurring—
and that was plenty for a friendship.
When we left class to go to the therapist
we hoped they wouldn’t laugh—
took turns reminding the teacher:
“Me and Joe have to go to shpeesh clash now,”
or “M-m-me and J-Jim ha-have to go to
Mrs. Clark, therapist, was also god, friend, mother.
Once she took us to the zoo on a field trip:
“Aw, ya gonna go look at the monkeys?”
“Maybe they’ll teach you how to talk.”
We clenched teeth and went
and felt the sun and fed the animals
and we were a family of broken words.
For years we both tried so hard
and I finally learned
where to put my tongue and how to make sounds
but the first time you left class without me
I felt that punch in the gut—
I felt like a deserter
and wanted you
to have my voice.
(Daniels, Jim. 1988. Speech class. Rpt. in The place my words are looking for, 43-44. 1990. Ed. Paul Janeczko. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.)
Extension: This poem makes a nice addition to a unit on belonging and fitting in, which for younger students could feature books like Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester and Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells, or for older students it could introduce reading a novel like Geeks by Jon Katz, Lizard by Dennis Covington, or Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.