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


Blogger Clay said...

"I'm thinking is how I can... help them towards their own power."

If you can let them experience, if only once, that they can learn something, on thier own, that helps them achieve something, that's the first step.

That might be as simple as finding, reading, and interpreting a map to get to a concert in Baton Rouge.

It's surprising that this was (as I recall) never a goal in school.

No teacher (in class at least) said : YOU pick a goal. I'll guide you, but YOU are taking the initiative. YOU will do the work. YOU will get the reward.

Part of that is that teachers are expected to teach a SUBJECT MATTER, which students rarely find intersting. (OK, I admit it, I enjoy World Lit and Trig, but I didn't get to accomplish any goals that *I* had declared).

Seems like teachers are expected to be everyone's assistant: "We need to teach Morality, Birth control, whatever. Hmmm... how about having the teachers do that. It's like ANYTHING to do with children becomes the teachers' responsibility. That would be fine if the resources were allocated proportionately. But, of course we send billions to Iraq with no accountability, yet expect Teachers to be accountable for (that is, deal with and solve) school violence, family problems, etc, etc.


4:07 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

Suggestion on your book:
You might want to wrap YOUR story up in the bigger story of this Teacher Fellowes program (especially if it's succesful or even just noteworth). So, "New Orleans' Educational Initiative: one teacher's story".

7:16 PM  

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