Wednesday, October 11, 2006

two worlds

This week we are giving our 9 week exams.
I don't know where to start so I'm just going to start. I've been here for 9 weeks now. I'm teaching the polar opposite of what I was teaching a year and a half ago. I'm teaching the gifted now. My heart is pulled. Douglass has reopened in its building. Every day it seems there's a story in the newspaper about the problems the schools that are opening are facing. Kids at John Mac are protesting the poor conditions and being interviewed on television. No toilet paper. No doors on toilet stalls. No books. No teachers. That's the one that gets me and that's why my heart is pulled. I'm a teacher and I was their teacher. Yesterday in the paper there was an article about how many teachers have quit and how many they still need, about how someone said that there are actually classes of 100 students and the authority says no, that's not true, that they're running about 40 in a class. 40. Our governor spent some time in an elementary school which is one of the model schools. Someone interviewed her and asked her why she wasn't touring the schools with problems and she said she's meeting with people who know what those conditions are like, but I know, and there's no doubt about it, just like really seeing what Katrina did to New Orleans, you have to see it with your own eyes. Second hand accounts, pictures, like that, cannot possibly express the devastation. I was so angry when I saw her on television all I could do was cry.
At least there's a little noise.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I just don't know where to start.
TinSoldier. Thank you for finding this blog and for writing. Thank you for being in my room. Thank you for respecting it. Thank you and the people who left the stuffed animals in that science classroom, and for the note you wrote on the board about leaving the animals because the children had already evacuated.
Some of them are back. Douglass has reopened as the afternoon platoon shift at Clark or Cohen or one of those comparable schools. Their hours are 1:30 to 7:30. Next week the school itself is supposed to re-open. What can I say? I wonder if Whitney and Monique and Jaquonda (the girl who saved Maya Angelou's book of poetry from the "fire") will be looking for me?
I wonder who will erase Williams Stafford's poem, "For my young friends who are afraid," from the board in 219?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

a matter of perspective

School is over and I've been to Paris and now I am finally really going to settle in on writing again. I've been stymied with the writing of the story of Douglass and I haven't known why until yesterday. Yesterday my friend asked me if I had any trouble last year writing, and I didn't, not really. What she said to that made me gain perspective. She said that last summer, Douglass was still a viable (relatively speaking) school, and ongoing. At that time I was writing the blog and the book to address the plight of the children of New Orleans, and the sad state of the school system. Now there is no Douglass anymore, no 9th ward/lower 9th ward to speak of, almost no New Orleans, so now I see that the job isn't about addressing conditions so that maybe they'll change. Now the job is to be an advocate and tell the story of those children I knew, to say what I learned about them, about what they were given in the name of education, so, I don't know, maybe so the outside world can know a little more of what they were up against. Anyway, now what I'm doing is telling a story about something that happened and is over. It's an entirely different point of view.

Monday, May 29, 2006

the road

The school year is over and tomorrow I'm going to Paris for 10 days. I haven't been able to write here in so long. I miss it. The last month has been overwhelming. I had to have an angiogram. But when I get back I intend to reflect on the end of the year and report in then. Meantime, bon voyage, Melanie.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

last writing with first

This blog today is the last writing I did with that marvelous first period class. I read it aloud to them. Later I'll read what they wrote and include some of that.

What I wanted was for us to reflect on the semester, to think about all the poems we read, all the writing we did, all the discussions we had. I loved when we wrote about living in the isthmus after reading Pope's "Essay on Man." And the deeper yes after reading some of the new German Pope's first encyclical on love. How did it happen that such a beautiful group of young men and women would convene at this one place, this one point in time, especially when I was here, and let the world open up a little? Some people believe in dumb luck but I don't. I can't. I don't know why I can't. When beautiful things happen I feel like they're gifts we're being given (not that I know what the giver is) as rewards or as opportunities for lessons or as boosts for us or as times to prepare us for times. This semester with this class has changed me somehow. It reminded me, for one thing, that real education is possible in school. It reminded me that there will be adults out there in the world in the future who think for themselves. It makes me feel safer and somehow like the world is richer knowing that they're out there and I'm richer because they were here for me. It's significant that this would be the first group of students I'd work with after Katrina. Theirs were the first faces I saw who looked toward me to be their teacher. They were the first students since the storm with whom I'd had an opportunity for intellectual inquiry, real serious inquiry, inquiring to the point where we all had to throw up our hands and acknowledge that we didn't know, that we'd gone to the edge of the known and, standing on its narrow ledge, looked into the vast gray whatever. It's circular in that grayness and I know that what happened in here is going to circle through the parts of life we don't know and return to our consciousness having been sparkled with cosmic dust. We'll one day go to a zoo and see a polar bear or a swan or a flamingo or a platypus or a giraffe or a walrus and we'll understand it a little bit differently than we did before and these children will carry on with their lives and experience things that try to crush them but they'll rise and remember and they'll carry all that with them. I hope that it's people like these who will become lawyers and judges and law makers and that they will remember about this Earth and its awesome beauty and power and I hope they'll remember how Pope in his Essay on Man said how things aren't simple when you're a being who wishes to live consciously. And I hope they'll remember about surviving and thriving and that there are people living in their very cities and neighborhoods who only seem to thrive, who just barely survive, and I hope they'll remember that life is hard but can be beautiful and when they go out in the world I hope they'll remember that it's very hard to pull oneself up by the bootstraps and that sometimes people don't have boots. I hope that when they pass judgment they will remember the deeper yes, and about love, and I hope they will look upon the kids, for example, at Douglass High School with compassion and heart.
Anything else? Oh yes. I certainly want to say a huge thank you to the powers that be for giving these people to me these some months (and forever). Amen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

what it was all for

So Friday was the day we'd set in first period to stand together in the middle of the room and place our animals in the zoo. I honestly had no more plan than that, and I told the students so. Someone suggested we make a circle with our desks, which we did. Then someone said maybe we should start with climate. Two people had ice-requiring creatures, the polar bear and the penguin, so we began with that. Sarah, the student with the polar bear, told us that polar bears and lions are the two most discontented zoo animals and we know this because they're the animals that pace the most. We ended up talking about quality of life and the difference between surviving and thriving and whether or not animals' freedom should be sacrificed for the entertainment and education of humans and whether or not animals recognize that they're free or not free. In the end, we pretty much talked ourselves out of creating a zoo. Sarah said she doesn't like zoos anymore.
Here are the three of the many wonderful lines I heard during the discussion that I managed to write down: "Platypus's don't care." "In the UK every swan is owned by the queen." "All that evolution is for nothing."
I don't care anymore if we make a zoo or write a paper or get our bibliography pages right. All that research had its fruition in that one 50 minute discussion as we sat like educated people, sharing not only what we learned but, more importantly, what our minds came to understand. The students taught each other, and they taught me. I was stunned, and elated by it. They were too.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

some people eat Flamingoes

I wrote a long blog yesterday and it disappeared when I attempted to publish it. It tore me up to lose it. I forget how important this blog is to me. So I’m going to try to reconstruct what I wrote.
I began by saying it has been too long since my last writing, that I have been distracted, that I feel like I stepped into a school in motion from out of a world that is most definitely not in motion. It’s hard to reconcile the two worlds. When I make it back to the south shore I can hardly remember what it is like to be in a chaos-free place.
Anyway, what I wrote about yesterday was how the zoo research project is going. I think it’s a success. Learning about animals is pretty compelling. One of my students said the animals of Europe are boring. She said the only interesting one is an extinct one called the Irish Elk, that it went extinct because its antlers grew too large and its neck couldn’t support its head any longer. She printed out a picture of it and everything. Half the people in the room know now about the Irish Elk. Another student informed us that there are people who eat Flamingoes. Another student is researching the Cheetah and it gives us the chance to talk (informally) about what the fastest land animal on Earth would need in a zoo in order for it to thrive. My wish is that these brief interchanges will lead to a discussion of the differences between surviving and thriving, not just at a zoo, not just among animals, but among us. One time somebody who reads this blog pointed out the fact to me that these young people at Mandeville High School are the children who will be going to college and who will become lawyers and law makers and such, and that perhaps these are the children who may have the greater impact on our society. I’m thinking about that because maybe someone in this class will remember the talk of thriving and use it to help the children of my students at Douglass.
A dilemma led to a beautiful piece of luck, by the way. One of my students, a very strong and present young woman, was absent the first few days of the project, so missed the animal choosing. I gave her a book about the current thinking on zoos and made her the zookeeper and tomorrow, when the animal researchers gather in the middle of the room, armed with their information, she will be the expert and she will arrange the zoo according to what she learned in her reading. I envision her asking the animal experts questions so she can juxtapose. They’re all writing papers that contain information about the animals, a discussion of what each animal requires to survive, and a discussion of what each animal requires to thrive. Maybe when we get back from our break I’ll try to get them to make the leap and, in a formal discussion which will lead to an essay, apply their thinking to the human race.
The freshmen are still reading Great Expectations. I read the first 85 pages aloud and now I’m letting them read on their own. A student today told me she loves the book. I’m loving it too. I’m beginning to understand why it’s so revered. Pip is a plain old flawed and glorious human, just like me.