Mr. Ward plays a super important role in this book—after all, he's the English teacher who gets the idea for Open Mike Fridays (with some inspiration from his students) and then keeps the poetry events coming—but oddly, he never gets to tell his own story. That's right, the man whose name is on every character's tongue doesn't get his own chapter. With so many narrators in the mix, we're thinking this isn't because Nikki Grimes didn't want to add one more.
So what does Mr. Ward not getting to tell his own story accomplish? It enables us as readers to see him through his students' eyes. He's always Mr. Ward, teacher extraordinaire, instead of Mr. Ward the fully developed, three-dimensional person. To see this perspective in action, check out how Tyrone sees Mr. Ward:
I look around this class and nobody I see fits into the box I used to put them in. Startin' with Mr. Ward. I figured him for a lightweight do-gooder who would last about five minutes in this neighborhood. But he stuck, and he got this poetry thing going. He even reads his own stuff sometimes. He's okay. (43.1)
Is Mr. Ward truly a "lightweight do-gooder"? We don't know—we never hear the guy's story—but what we do know is that as a teacher, he exceeds his students' expectations. Mr. Ward truly cares about the kids in his class, so when he finds they have a passion for poetry, instead of forcing them along with his lesson plan, he lets them go their own way.
By giving them space to open up and explore their inner poets, Mr. Ward does more than teach these kids about poetry; he allows them to discover things about themselves and their lives. So it's fitting the kids' stories take center stage while he waits in the wing—his class isn't about him; it's about them.
Part of Mr. Ward holding space for his kids to dig deep and really explore who they are is maintaining a laid-back style. Want to write a poem instead of doing your assigned essay? Mr. Ward won't make a fuss. Want to change your name? Mr. Ward is cool with it. Want to hide your dyslexia from your friends? Mr. Ward won't stop you. Mr. Ward knows he can't force his students to find themselves; he has to let them figure things out on their own.