Thursday, September 30, 2004

faculty meeting

Tuesday we had a faculty meeting. It was strange because all the teachers who were there seemed to want to be there, as did the administrators. I didn't feel any "us against them" energy. It was nice. The main reason for the meeting was to explain about the group of people who had gone around on Monday observing classes, and what they found. Our teachers who had been in the group were the ones to stand up and say what the eleven specific things were that they were looking for, and to say what they actually saw. They were looking for teachers to be interacting with students (there were a few specific points about this which I forget), they were looking for updated records and lesson plans, they were looking for the room to be inviting to students, and they were looking for certain things to be displayed, like objectives for the day and that damned "do now." Except for the do now, I agreed with everything they were looking for. Of course, in regard to the look of the classroom, I guess it is to be seen how subjective the idea of "inviting" is.
Three of the eleven classes they visited had most of these things. I don't know any specifics. However, the teachers were apparently pretty disgusted about some of what they found. They made a few little comments, but of course, they couldn't disparage anyone in public. It was smart, I think, to have regular teachers accompany the administrators around the school. It bridged the gap between us and them.
I'll describe my room. It's a rectangle. Three walls are black chalkboards (framed in wood), interrupted by the two glass-paned doors into the room. The fourth side of the room is solid windows that look out onto the roof and its various electric and hvac, um, things. I love the roof. It looks like a scene from an old and bad (but dear to the heart) science fiction movie. My desks, the old kind, made of wood, with the little armrest and writing surface (all for right-handers) are in a big circle. The floor is beautiful, wood, with years of varnish and such built up around the edges. It's shiny. My desk is in one corner. On the wall above the board there I have my John Lennon "Imagine" photograph, which I got in NYC one time. My candy box from Germany shaped like a cello. A note from a former student where she wrote the lyrics to "You are my sunshine" and wrote that she loved me. (It really makes me feel better all the time.) A framed photograph of Tupac Shakur. Two envelopes from a friend who sent me presents at Douglass (a new notebook and a collage he made). That collage. The Easter rabbits, one with his ears chewed off, one with his tail chewed off, and the one without the tail says, "My butt hurts" and the one without ears says, "What?" My kids don't get it. Down one wall I have maps of America, The Alps, and Antarctica. I have a huge framed collage of photographs of kids from Mandeville High. (My kids love to look at that.) My books, including the encyclopedias, are on the shelf of the window wall. On the third wall I have my huge world history chart. And right by the door, above the chalkboard, I have my "Big Brother Is Watching You" poster. I think that's about it.
Inviting? Guess I'll find out soon.

I'm taking a hiatus from disposing of things.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

butter beans

It's Wednesday. About halfway through second period, while our principal was being interviewed on the in-school televsion channel, the fire alarm went off. The evacuation was orderly, so that was good. The kids were made to cross St Claude (I imagined what drivers on St Claude felt when they saw 700 kids in uniforms filling the neutral ground and sidewalks). Four fire engines came and firemen went in with axes and oxygen tanks. Our fire alarm is the kind that only goes off when it smells smoke, so it wasn't a false alarm. However, it looks like someone put a piece of burning paper near the sensor in a bathroom on the third floor just to set off the alarm. Anyway, it was dramatic. Finally, after about half an hour, we were scooted back in. The security guards attempted to bring the kids in through the metal detector but they overwhelmed him and teemed back into school. The ones who didn't escape, that is. Then we started having fights in the halls. The sirens outside arrived and four policemen came in and ran past my room to the side hall where a kid and a security guard were figthting. Fights broke out all over the school. The air, I'm sure you can imagine, was on fire. As it were. I managed to herd my students into my class and I locked the door and we sat in a small circle and talked about it, then we wrote. We kept hearing screaming among people running down the halls but we kept on writing. I read what I wrote, in which I told them I wanted more for them than this. I told them I think they're afraid. One girl said naw, but she was, and everyone knew it. I told them they were being robbed of their right to an education. They told me this is only the beginning. They told me that last year this went on all the time. They told me that last year in one day there were three fire alarms. Some of the fires are real.
When I was leaving at 3:45 another fight had begun. Kids in riot mode hanging around outside pushed the door open, knocked the metal detector over, overwhelmed the security guards, and bullied their way into the hall outside the cafeteria. A fellow teacher with her arm on the shoulder of her little girl was leaving the same time as I. The way they walked slowly and looked at the mob ... there was something poignant about it.
HOWEVER, in second period there was this precious moment: a girl said that right before she left for school this morning her momma asked her what she wanted for supper tonight. My girl said she wanted butter beans and her momma said okay. What a damned good reason to want to go home. I told her that and she agreed.

Disposed of: a big zucchini

Melanie Anne Plesh

Monday, September 27, 2004


October 18 the leap will be administered in my school. Today I surveyed my students and about 75% of them still need to take the English part of it. So I'm concentrating on the essay and on proofreading. For the few who don't need remediation in things like the forms of "to be" or plurals or possessives, I decided to include for them a novel, for which they will be responsible and tested on. I gave one student, the infamous S in first period, Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. As students show me that they don't need as much remediation as others, I'll give them extra things to read while the others of us slosh through.
The day was good. First period a cadre of somebodies came into my class to observe me and mine. Two were in fuscia. They stood outside the circle of desks, even though I invited them in, (I wish observers would involve themselves rather than sit outside and ogle) and took notes. They looked around my room, asked for my class records, and asked for my lesson plans (I had JUST finished writing Monday through Wednesday when the first period bell rang). We're supposed to have something called a "do now" on the board each day, which I didn't have. But there's so much on my boards, perhaps they didn't notice what was missing. Most fortunate is that above my board, in broad view, is the "Big Brother Is Watching You" poster Jessica B brought me from Disneyworld during the senior trip last year. It's, fortunately, pretty daunting.
I also found out that I'm considered to be probationary at this point because I'm brand new in Orleans. I don't have tenure.
Today when I stepped outside at lunch there was a boy crying, wiping his swolen nose with a bloody undershirt. He'd been jumped by somebody and got thrown out of school, probably because how could the actual facts of any altercation be discerned. It's always so muddy. But he was out there with red teary eyes waiting for someone. I don't know the boy. He told me he was waiting for his brother. He kept turning away from me toward something unseen, trying to step into his outrage I'd say, but he was stymied by something. Probably his sorrow. Probably his humanness. It was so sad. I fear what this might lead to. I can see he's not intrinsically inclined toward violence, but I fear what he will feel forced to do.
The teacher who had her wig pulled off is not in chemo, I found out today. She is not coming to school because she feels she has been hurt by a student, and it is grounds to stay home. She came in today to fill out some paperwork. Most of me is appalled by this exploitation of a situation, but something in me also understands. She has to find a way to feel acknowledged by the system, and if it won't rise up in outrage against a kid who would do such a despicable thing, she has to find her own way to make herself believe that she's valued. So she's out, on full pay, until who knows when. I guess until she can't anymore. Or until someone acknowledges her insult.

Disposed of: a bicycle.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Saturday, September 25, 2004

civil disobedience

Yesterday I met a teacher who retired in May after teaching at our school for 25 years. She tried to be a retired person but couldn't stand it, and so she returned to teaching full time here. We conversed in the parking lot. She asked me what school I'd come from and I told her and she got that uneasy look (I'm beginning to recognize it) which said to me she thought I was really in for it. But before she could say it, I told her that I chose this school specifically, that I quit my job and came to work here deliberately, because I wanted to. She said "God bless you." She said what another woman said to me once before, something I figured out immediately about FD myself, that while there are some bad kids (but she didn't mean bad in the pejorative sense, she meant bad as in dangerous), there are also some really great kids. That is so true. And she loves teaching here. So do I. That must sound insane coming on the heels of the events of this week.
The girl who got hit by the ceiling fan has a fractured shoulder, had a concussion, and is very sore, but she'll be alright. Strangely, the principal came on the intercom yesterday morning and asked us to take a moment of reflection for the girl, and the kids in my class thought she'd died. Something else had happened that day apparently, which I'd not heard about. What I gather is that there's a teacher who is in chemotherapy and wears a wig, and a student, a GIRL, pulled her wig off in front of the class and everyone laughed hysterically. The teacher wasn't there yesterday and the principal asked that we have a moment of silence for her too. One of my students who was in the class where that happened was so disgusted. This girl, a short little twin with a baby and an unconscionably toxic family (both parents and a younger sister in jail), has lately taken to sitting in a chair at my desk, close to me. She breaks my heart. Yesterday she was trying to get some paperwork taken care of at the school and kept getting the run around and she came to me, looking so serious (but not crying. I don't think she cries much.) and worried. I wrote her a pass (though she was in another class at the time, her teacher wasn't there) to go see the assistant principal to get her business taken care of. And I told her she could tell the assistant principal I'd sent her. No more bullshit. Anyway, she did it and I saw her afterward in the hall (we kept bumping into each other, like the meeting between us was meant to be), and she got everything taken care of and was on her way to her teacher-less class.
One other thing about Thursday, I knew one girl in the class where the fan fell down and she was so agitated by everything -- the fan, the chaos, the boy throwing the bottle at me, the hostility, the violence in the room -- and she said, "I'm about to leave this place," or something like that, and I told her to go somewhere quiet and peaceful, but not to leave school, and she followed my suggestion. I don't know why that little detail stands out so much with me. Maybe because she's not dead inside yet.
Yesterday in class we wrote on "the woods," then read from Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and Martin Luther King, Jr's, speech from jail, and I asked them if they could think of a cause worth going to jail for, and right then and there they started developing a theoretical plan for going on strike until changes are made at our school. They didn't know the word "marrow," but a lot of them know there's something deep and rich somewhere, and that they want it.
I went to the woods to live deliberately.

Disposed of: yesterday's journal.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Thursday, September 23, 2004

why Thoreau went to the woods

Today I agreed to babysit a class during my planning period, just because I felt strong after having had a day so good it will go in the books of my entire teaching career as one of the best. We read Thoreau. They understood. So when the secretary asked me to cover a class, feeling so strong as I did, I said okay. Trying to do my part. During a moment when things were finally relatively still in the room, though there were still hallwalkers coming in who sniffed out a substitute in the class, me, the Hunter ceiling fan fell from the ceiling and hit a student. The administrator who finally arrived scooted me and the now chaotic children under my watch (haha) into the classroom next door which ALSO didn't have a teacher in it. So I was now in charge of watching two out of control groups of students, and the new venue was a science lab with glass cabinets. A kid who, I found out later, was not even one of the students I was supposed to be watching, threw a bottle of 7-up, real hard, at me. He missed. Probably intended to miss. Had he hit me it would have been another story. Two kids pushed past me to escape the room and there was nothing I could do. It was absurd. And I can't write anymore about it tonight. Except to say that a group of paramedics had to come for the girl and took her away in an ambulance, her neck secured in a plastic cast and her body strapped onto an orange fiberglass guerney. The children in the room hung out of the open windows looking out onto Alvar Street, watching what was probably not the first ambulance they'd ever seen in their lives.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

thank you, Shirley

So I got to school early today and put the desks back into the circle. I just can't do the rows. Shirley was right. It would be a punishment to the whole class.
So here's what I did. I wouldn't let the problem boy in the class until I talked with him. (I was a lion!) I told him this is MY class and that the only way I would allow him to walk through my door was if he agreed to sit where I say and stay quiet and calm. My way or the highway. It was the right thing to do. He took a seat where I told him to and he worked the whole period. The class was calm, focused, relatively quiet, and it was a good day. I told them we would redo yesterday, and that's what we did. We redid yesterday.
But I did prepare myself. I wore my John Lennon shirt, which gives me a feeling of good power, and I spoke with a couple of teachers about how to have a student removed from a class, just so I could be ready if he went off on me during class. Which was a real possibility. But which he didn't. However, I was ready. Dressed and ready.
And can you believe it, kids at Douglass don't know John Lennon or even the Beatles!!! I turned my back to them and let them read the lyrics to "Imagine" printed on the back of my shirt, and one of my students said that was nice.
I forgot to mention that yesterday a boy came in my class (the door wasn't locked) and looked at some papers then looked up at me and said, "Are you Ms Plesh?" and I said yes and he said,"They told me downstairs to tell you to pack up your shit and go. You're fired." And he walked out. So I started packing my shit, and I think it scared my students. When I realized that I told them I was kidding. I really have to be careful about my joking around. Apparently, I'm too serious a joker. Anyway, I ran into that boy later and realized it was just him clowning around, and he was actually a very warm boy. No malice intended whatsoever. Just a joke. But what a day for such a joke!
The tall girl is back from suspension but seems to have forgotten me, as have all the hallwalkers. They're leaving me alone. I miss them.
Today we were reading from Thoreau's journals about living deliberately in the woods. When we got to "simplicity simplicity simplicity," I, of course, had to define simplicity, after which we talked about living simple lives and one girl said the ultimate simplicity would be to sit on your sofa and wait for your check to come in. And while that's on the surface appalling, it's also true, though doesn't touch, of course, on Thoreau's intent. It really gave us something to talk about. It was a great discussion. Another girl said it would be boring to be alone all the time. (They keep setting me up with these great scenarios for discussion) and we discussed that too. It was so cool. Good old Thoreau.
I spoke with Tim. He's staying temporarily in an apartment near the Bastille. Today he took an all day walk. Around Paris. France. By the way, another thing about yesterday is one of the girls who rose up against me complained about me (while I was standing there) treating her like she was my kid, and she said something about how she's not in France. I'd told them about Tim. I thought they'd like to know something about what I was experiencing in my life, and about my son, but I think they realize that my son is in Paris and they're not and they have no possible means to go.
Or so they think. The school year is young...

Disposed of: a cd player (brought to school) and a few cd's.

We wrote about God today.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I can't think of a good title for this one

It was a rough day. Here's how rough it was: at the end of the day I put my desks in rows and made a seating chart.
The trouble was just with first period. There wasn't anything in particular that occurred, just an instance of three people rising up in indignation because they think I'm picking on them, and their voices got louder than mine, and their language got cruder than mine, and they got mean. Really mean. Suddenly it became a situation where everyone in the room was watching to see how it was going to play out and who would end up with the power. My weapon (what a terrible thing to resort to) is my words, but my words are useless in a situation with people who don't understand them. It's so ironic. Power in this case belonged to the owner of the loudest voice and the meanest demeanor, and that wasn't me. However, my thinking is that the other people in the class secretly want me to remain calm, secretly want me not to raise my voice and hope I won't lower myself to the yellers' level. That's what I think. I think they want civility. And that's what I'm going to give them. I may be run out of Dodge.
My plan is to maintain the seating chart/rows of desks (I'm telling you, my spirit shuddered as I scraped those desks across the floor) until they understand who I am and what I'm trying to accomplish. Even this may be the wrong thinking, but it's the thinking of the moment. (This is so hard, and yet I'm utterly clear about why I'm there and what I know they're capable of. They don't know what they're capable of. They have absolutely no idea what they're capable of. I feel like a warrior.)
I'm also telephoning one parent tonight. Her child is the one actual problem in the room, it just occurred to me at lunch today. He could be the poster child for hubris and is as obnoxious a human being as I've ever known. As an example, he has left gum in the meanest places -- on the inside of the back of a desk one time, on the window behind one of my books (which ruined the book), on the floor a foot from the trash can. And, of course, I can't prove a thing. But he's the one,and everyone knows it. In fact, today one of my students turned in an essay on a person he knows who has hubris and, without using the hubristic kid's name, made it clear to whom it was he referred. I hate telephoning a parent and saying things no parent wants to hear, much less believe. But I have to do it. This is a call that has to be made. I don't know if I'll have the courage to tell the truth to her.
And one last thing I'm doing is writing a letter to the two students this person sits between, those whom he is bedeviling and who had to raise their voices to me. Because of him. Maybe I ought to write myself a letter too, considering the bedevilment I'm feeling victim of.
I don't think I was a good teacher today.

Disposed of: what the hell is that about?

By the way, after 1st period is over I'll spread the desks back into the circle, every day, so the rest of my classes can have their circle, and every day (until things change) at the end of the day return the desks to rows for 1st period.

Melanie Anne Plesh, Warrior Princess In Training

Monday, September 20, 2004

back to business

School is back in session, and it's sex in the stairwell as usual. Ah, tradition. Today, though, there was apparently an audience, and it turned ugly, and the crowd got surly and laid its anger and hatred and sense of demoralization upon the girl, and they followed her around in the halls, spitting (so to speak) at her. I'm uneasy writing about this. It seems like something that ought to be kept secret, it's so sordid and shameful. I have been back and forth about whether to write about it. But this journal would be a sham if I kept the truth out of it. And I know for a fact that this is not a situation exclusively ours. That's enough said.
On another front, first thing this morning, when I was signing in, the secretary told me she needed for me to babysit another class during my planning period. She asks me almost every day now. I refused in my despicably wimpy way. But I was public about it this time. I didn't choose to be. She forced it. I don't want to alienate the school secretary. That would be a pretty damned seriously stupid mistake, politically speaking. However, I'm clear about this: I'm not here to make friends.

I'm making up a handwritten interim report for each of my students tonight. The average grade of my 80 or so students is probably 50. The problem is absenteeism, but also that I think they're afraid of the things I ask of them. Today we read an excerpt from Emerson's essay on self-reliance, and when I asked my students what it meant to be self-reliant and non-conformist (after explaining the terms) they were afraid because they thought I had an answer up my sleeve, and they didn't want to take a chance and be wrong. I told them that I don't have or use a teacher's manual, but they didn't understand me. I'm realizing as I write here that their vociferousness about not wanting to think about things is their way of saying they don't know and they feel stupid.
Things are definitely getting thick.

Tim is in the air even as I write here, on his way to be an English teacher in Paris. France. The child is father to the man.

Today the word we used to set off our writing was "conforming." My timer died third period during the ten minutes. Also, I had to reiterate our resolve (I know that series of words seems unseemly) when a kid stood up during the writing to ask me a question. Poor P. He was the source of a big lesson today.

Disposed of: an antiquated cellular telephone and two dead plants.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


We're home at Ivan's behest. It doesn't look like it's going to hit us, which is of course good for many reasons, not the least of which is that I did not heed the administration's advice to make my classroom hurricane-ready. I guess I didn't believe for a second that we wouldn't be at school on Tuesday. Obviously can't say I'm not glad that I was wrong on that one. Anyway, it gave me the time to have a conversation with my good friend, Ellen, from Mandeville High School, about how things are going at our respective schools. It really gave me a perspective that I needed. Reflecting off of her I saw how lucky I am to be where I am, doing what I'm doing, and it reminded me of how unjaded and even innocent my students are.
I'm too jumpy to write any more today.

Disposed of: a lawn chair and an extra pair of headphones.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Sunday, September 12, 2004

moral perfection

It's Sunday. The past three weeks of school caught up with me last night, especially the emotional. In this short time I have already had students tell me hair-raising things about their lives, such as matter-of-fact stories about violent stepfathers, a girl whose mother went to the hospital one day this last spring for something supposedly routine and died there (she brought her mother's picture to show me Friday), others who have fathers in prison, two who have seen relatives get killed in their neighborhoods (one who had a feeling ahead of time it was going to happen, and was loathe to leave her cousin, who was later that afternoon killed). Friday a girl with big generous black eyes, sobbing, told me that on Thursday her mother was put in the hospital and I asked her about it and the girl told me that her mother had attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Last night, in the quiet safety of my house, when everything caught up with me, I thought about how my mother did that too, and in the same way.
On Friday a girl who is loving writing in the journal, who gives it to me every day to read and respond in, a girl who admits she cannot think of anything else except her father who recently got out of prison and lives in another state, this girl asked me if I thought she could succeed in my class. The terrible thing is, I don't know if she can. She will succeed, she is succeeding, but I don't know if she can nail the leap exam. However, the journal writing is good for her and in just this short time I can see her becoming less afraid of the empty page. Her writing is blooming. Oh, by the way, this is the girl who made the comment about sitting in the back of the bus. L. She is also the one with the cousin I mentioned above. This girl also changed seats during a class discussion recently so that she could be nearer to the middle of it, and away from two girls who were talking (whom I ended up sending outside, not because I was mad, just because I couldn't have them talking while we were working. One of them asked me after school if I was mad at her. And of course I wasn't. And I explained myself to her and we smiled and it was over. This is a girl with a child, a very rough girl with an awareness of meanness, but when she writes in her journal it's always lovely poetic romantic musings about her little girl, and she always asks me to read what she wrote.)
That's the thing about the kids I teach here. Their lives are so complex, and their living conditions so rough, but what I'm discovering is such an innocence still in them, a sweetness. I know the tall mean girl has that in her too.
Another thing is that there was that horrendous quadruple murder in Treme this week at the Black Pearl, and one of the perpetrators is related to one of my students. This girl has been absent the last few days, obviously, but the last time I saw her last week, before the murders, I told her she had a beautiful smile, and that her smile was in her eyes too. The memory of that conversation comforts me. But I know she's not smiling now.
Friday's collaging about moral perfection, etc., was interesting. First period was wild, loud. There's a wonderful girl named E in that class who acts on the outside like she's tough and doesn't give a shit about anything, but she most certainly does. (I saw through her facade the first day of school.) She was distressed that she wasn't finishing her collage by bell time (even though she had a few issues about the scissors and glue...) and I had to reassure her that I would take her work on Monday, and that calmed her and she worked on. She's an extremely serious girl, one of those great, deep, loyal ones. I asked her Friday after school if she would be willing to be our class's student council representative and she looked astonished, then proud, and then said yes she would be willing. Second period was calm and took care of business. Third period was wild too, but one girl, K (who also has a child) went to another teacher and borrowed her broom and dustpan and cleaned up the room of the inevitable collage detritus while another girl, J, the girl who wants to be a nurse, alphabetized my files after she finished her collage. Yes I put extra credit marks in my grade book for them. Crazy as the day was, it was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about them, about me, and about teaching. And about love, somehow.
Oh, and by the way, no one banged on my door or bothered me or anyone else in class Friday. Of course, it wasn't so easy to hear over the collaging din. Maybe that's the solution. Din.
My son, Tim, is moving to Paris in 8 days, to take a job as an assistant high school English teacher there. We're going to Galatoire's Tuesday in a celebration. We're riding our bicycles there. I tell you this just so you know something about me.
I am behind on my disposing of things.

Melanie Anne Plesh

Thursday, September 09, 2004


I found out today that the tall girl has been suspended, which is why she hasn't been to my room now for two days. During lunch today people in the lounge were talking about students hallwalking and banging on the doors, harassing teachers, commandeering classes, etc., (it happens to all of us), and I described the countenance and antics of this girl whose name I still do not know, and everyone knew her, though not her name. That's when I found out she was suspended. At the risk of being laughed out of this school I volunteered the idea that I think she wants to be in my class and the lady with the yardstick who has football players practically crying on their knees for her mercy said she thinks I might be right. I was prepared for a berating but got a surprising acknowledgement. Part of me wants to talk with the administration, find out the tall girl's name, and have her moved into one of my classes. A big part of me. Possibly a leading part of me.
We read Ben Franklin's 13 efforts toward moral perfection in two of my classes today. At first we all thought we didn't care about striving for that, but as the discussion continued it came out that perhaps we do, if in no other way than that we wish to do some good in the world. It was such a discussion. I know that I, for one, left there thinking. Tomorrow, while I have private conferences with each of my students (I love the 90 minute classes in the block schedule), the other people are going to be making collages (who doesn't love crayolas scissors and glue?), gluing pictures that make reference to what they think moral perfection looks like onto sheets of legal size typing paper. One of my students, S, said he was going to cut out nothing but pictures of beautiful women. I said that's cool, but that part two of the assignment will be to explain, via the essay, the collage they made, bearing in mind Franklin's ideas about moral perfection. I would love it if S could pull his idea about the beautiful women off. I'm going to encourage him in that. His idea has heat and he means it. I want him to give it a shot. I hope he'll believe me.
In my third class we read Patrick Henry's speech that ends with "Give me liberty or give me death." I asked the class if they would trade their freedom for death and everyone said no. Conversation ensued about what freedom is, always a word I think Americans throw around recklessly, and eventually the conversation got to L saying, "you know niggers still go to the back of the bus."
It hurts to use that word. But it's what she said.

Disposed of: the last few slices of two loaves of bread that I saved in my freezer for an emergency. The emergency has arrived.

the word today was "salute"

Melanie Anne Plesh

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

trouble in blogadise

Can't get my blog from yesterday to publish, so, the logical thing is to try a new one with different text!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

paper is weak/paper is strong

The first thing I did this morning was duct tape Sunday's newspaper over the inside (obviously) of the entire glass pane span of my primary classroom door. That and being obsessive about keeping my door locked worked to keep out the hallwalkers. I did have one random knock (a minor occurrence given the number of, so to say, legitimate knocks I receive regularly), but there was no real hoorah, which lent to a relatively quiet day.
However, during my planning period, grading my students' first tests, when I thought it was safe to leave my door open, I heard a blistering noise in the hall and went out to investigate and found my duct taped newspaper ripped off my door and lying in the middle of the hall. It was such a random act of meanness. The only reason I had the paper up was because I'm trying to secure a space for my students and me to be ourselves, and this stranger made a statement, which was, you're going to have to try harder. I secretly cursed him while I ranted out loud and taped yet more paper, this time a piece of legal sized typing paper into each of the 15 individual panes, the edges reinforced with more tape, and then I verified from the outside of the door, seeing as a hallwalker would, that nothing could be seen through any minute space I might have left.
I'm 51 years old.
I don't know who today's boundary destroyer was, but it wasn't the tall girl. She didn't come to my classroom today. Had she done it, it wouldn't have been a random act of meanness.

Disposed of: a sleeveless turtleneck sweater that has never made sense to me.

The writing word today was "forward."

Melanie Plesh

Monday, September 06, 2004

I'm from another planet

It's Labor Day evening. I have not been a good soldier with the blog. Fortunately, there are no blog police . . . ?

The timed free writing we're doing every day now is showing me what it shows me every time, that people love the chance to express themselves. The "papers" students struggle to squeeze out, the ones that they're trying to make acceptable to teachers, are wrung out, lifeless, and dry. But the free writings in their journals say what they really want to say, and how they want to say it. They don't realize (or believe) yet that it's their real minds that the world desperately needs. One student I've been particularly concerned about, a girl who seriously wants to be a nurse and who wants to rise out of this situation that she's in, but who cannot pass the English part of the exit exam, writes beautifully in her journal but her writings to turn in are awful. (I erased that word "awful" but decided I have to be truthful here, so I put it back. Her journal writings are beautiful and the writings that she turns in to me really are awful. Period. That's the truth.)
Every day in every class they want to hear what I wrote and so I read what I wrote to them. They question the fact that I get tangential in my writing and so it gives me a chance to begin to try to help them see how vast our minds are. I love it that they question me. I've discovered that reading to them what I write is freeing them to write the way they themselves want to write. And so I think I should have this tattooed on my forehead, THE BEST WAY TO GET PEOPLE TO WRITE IS FOR TEACHERS TO WRITE TOO. Period. When I write I put myself on the line, just like I ask them to do every single damned day. And why should they do that if I'm not willing to? It happened the other day that people made comments or something while I was reading, not being mean, but just being untoward enough to make me feel uncomfortable exposing myself, and me stopping and saying I don't feel comfortable reading anymore. It changed everything. I knew they were sorry, but couldn't quite say so. I didn't need to hear any "sorry" anyway. I wasn't punishing them. I was just protecting myself. It was just me, a human, acting like a human. Then a kid asked me to finish. The others were still being kind of noisy, so I went over to that one kid and finished reading what I'd written and the whole class got silent to finish hearing.
The words so far, by the way: story, one, birth, boxes, hope, hubris.
By the way again, you should have heard their incredulity when I gave them the word "one." They think I'm from another planet, and, actually, I think part of my work at this school is to let them see someone from another planet.

Every day now that mean tall girl comes to my room to interrupt and disrupt my classes and to harrass me. I have decided that I am not raising my voice for her, but that I'm going to try to come to understand her and deal with her with my mind. She'd laugh hysterically at this, and you may too, but I think that she secretly wants to be in the class. I'm thinking about mentioning that to her. But not yet.

Disposed of: 4 Vanity Fair magazines, including the one with Brad Pitt on the cover.

Melanie Plesh