Saturday, July 31, 2004

Mr Tony Amato

30 July
There has been a lot of hoorah in the last some weeks about our superintendent, Mr Tony Amato. The school board planned a secret meeting, on an evening when they knew he was to be out of town, to "discuss" his performance with him. Of course, he wouldn't have been there. Their transparent intention was to fire him. Two school board members made heroic efforts to take the matter to court and stop the firing. One of them, Jimmy Fahrenholtz, was the person who introduced Tony Amato as a speaker on our last day of Teaching Fellows training. He said that if we get rid of Mr Amato we'll never get another good candidate for superintendent to even answer the telephone when we call. He also said that the fate of 65,000 kids can keep a person up at night. Then Mr Amato spoke.
He was articulate, used wonderful language, was even eloquent. He's obviously smart, very smart, and he's passionate. I'd even say he has a romantic attitude toward education. He said to us, "You're precious. You're golden." He referred to us as an "august group." I was smitten by him. When he asked us to raise our hands if graduation was memorable for us I didn't raise my hand (I didn't admit aloud how much I hated school). He asked me how that could be and I said I graduated from a Jefferson Parish school. He laughed. But anyway, I'm more sure than ever that this is the thing to do. I would be a fool to doubt anything, given the encouragement I've been receiving from the Universe about my choices, from the Orleans public school students' essays in Gambit to the play they wrote, to meeting SE here. And now, on top of it all, to have heard Anthony Amato.
I don't care if people think I'm audacious.
I guess that's why people don't like Amato. He's audacious. He's willing to shake things and people up and make them insecure. He's willing to make people mad. There's no way it's going to happen without shaking things up and getting the bees riled. But I am willing to be stung. I don't care about those teachers who might not like me. I have enough support from other, wiser people. I can do quite well without the naysayers. I have something, writing, to give to those children and I'm going to concentrate on that.
We took a little bus tour through Jimmy Fahrenholtz's district, stopped at the point at westend, and then toured Warren Easton. We finished the day with people talking about how they felt about the Fellows program. Some of them were extraordinarily eloquent. Some are very moved by this thing. I know that all 90 of us will not work out. I know that many will get bitten or disillusioned, that many got into it to get a job and not because of a wish to affect New Orleans. That's okay. No reason is the only reason. I know that a lot of these 90 will get wrung dry. Who knows, maybe I'll be one of them.
But I don't think so. I think I know exactly what I'm getting into. Not the details or the faces, and I know some of their stories will be too shocking to believe, but I, generally speaking, know what things are about. There wasn't a soft or safe day in my childhood until I was 13 and got my horse, Penny. She gave me my power. I mean, she didn't literally give me power. She gave me a chance to find my own. And that's what I'm thinking is how I can perhaps be a Penny for them. I can help them towards their own power.
I wonder if my students will believe me when I tell them, if I have the guts to tell them, that Tupac Shakur was one of the inspirations for me, one who pushed me in their direction? Perhaps when they see my Tupac poster that Alex made for me on the computer, with my name superimposed as a tattoo on Pac's belly ...
I'm innocent deep in my heart. I believe in love and hope. But I'm seasoned and experienced on the outside. I won't get fooled too much or too often, unless the ultimate truth turns out to be that love is not all you need. And then, if that were to turn out to be true, life would probably be over for me anyway.

31 July. Tonight I didn't go to the party at Jimmy Fahrenholtz's house for us Teaching Fellows. I don't want political schmoozing to have anything to do with this new life or new path I've embarked upon.

Disposed of: a cast iron cornbread pan, a tin muffin pan, and two hair brushes.

Melanie Plesh



Thursday, July 29, 2004

proceeding, part two

28-29 July
I said aloud in my Orleans Teaching Fellows training group that I have a worry, every single summer for 17 summers, the same worry, about whether or not I still have what it takes to create the atmosphere where everything will work out and my classes will be successes and my students will be honored the way they deserve to be. I'm thinking that perhaps this year I should be more explicit about what "respect" looks like in a classroom, since that's the only thing that's anything like a rule in my room.
Lisa Delpit is a teacher who wrote some books. Some excerpts from one of them:
"Do not teach less content to poor urban children, but understand their brilliance and teach more; Challenge racist societal views of the competence and worth of the children and families, and help them do the same; Use familiar metaphors and experiences from the children's world to connect with what they already know; Honor and respect the children's' home and ancestral cultures; Foster a sense of children's connection to community -- to something greater than themselves."
Had an idea for a research project which would be to design a zoo, including of course everything that would make living not just enough, but more than enough, for the animals. Then maybe take a field trip to Audubon Zoo. Then raise the stakes and look at the human race, into what makes humans' lives enough and also more than just enough. Research what the architects of the Soviet Union found out/decided about what humans need, for example. Design a city perhaps. Then maybe take them on a field trip to the French Quarter. And write a book. (How could we not?)
A woman from Tulane came to talk with us. She offered Tulane's library, Tulane's online resources, and her's and her staff's services, for research of any kind. And she meant it.
A former student, SE, is also one of us teaching fellows. She's here to "teach where she's most needed," which is the intent of the Orleans Teaching Fellows. She still has her writings from high school, the ones she made in my class. I'm so grateful.
Disposed of: two pieces of tupperware, a lava lamp, and an extra coffee pot.
Melanie Plesh

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

proceeding toward the first day, part one

Today at Tulane and North Broad I got fingerprinted and had my history with the police checked. A fellow new teacher was behind me waiting his turn, and he said, "How'd you get here before me?" and I said, "I drive fast." At the moment of this little exchange a big policewoman had my inked fingers in her plastic-gloved hand.
She let me go with a warning.
I'm feeling overwhelmed. I still don't have a school, though I know I'm hired. But not having a school means I don't know whether to be sitting around imagining and preparing myself for the next 9 months with 12 year olds or 18 year olds. It's strange that having too little dependable information in my life makes me feel like my life is full of too much. Odd or not, the complication has inspired me to create a new regimen. I am disposing of two things per day. So far I've disposed of: 4 items of clothing, my old Nikkormat camera, an original watercolor painting of a clown (I hate clowns), a stupid picture frame, and two vases. I decided it's bad for my spiritual well-being to have more vases than flowers. It's starting to get hard to find things I can live without, but it's good for me. I want to whittle things down to the simple. The clutter is killing me.
Melanie Plesh


Monday, July 05, 2004

Kahlil Gibran

The title of this blog is a line from Kahlil Gibran's poem, The Prophet. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

the genesis of the idea for the blog


New Orleans is the most charming city I know, but it has been careless and has inadvertently created a sub-culture of neglected children. I'm sure I will be taken to task for making such an assertion, but that's how I see it, and anyway, it's my party, and I'll assert if I want to. As it were. A year ago we hired a new school superintendent with passion whose name is Tony Amato. He put out a call for help. I decided he was talking to me. So I quit my plum 12 year teaching job in an uppermiddleclasswhiteflightsuburbanschool, no insult meant there, that's just the reality of it, and took him up on his call. Some great teachers from my old school, teachers who really care about children, wanted me to keep them up to date on how things go for me and for my new school so I'm going to keep track of the experience by writing a blog about it.
I dedicate this blog to the beautiful teachers and children at Mandeville High School and thank them for raising me and for loving me.
Melanie Plesh