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

3 Comments:

Blogger leslieg said...

Hello Melanie Anne,
I don't know how to reply yet, but I want you to know that I'm reading and thinking. I know you don't need advice. You know exactly what you're doing, and sometimes what needs doing leaves a foul taste in your mouth.
I suspect that they don't yet know what they have in you. I would guess that they have suspicions, they have a small sense of what you can give them, but I'll bet they don't completely believe it yet. How could they? You are a different animal. But you don't fully know them yet either, do you? You have a sense of them, and you already love them, but they have not shown all of themselves yet. Have they?
There is no theory to fall back on here--no Education class that tells people what to do, but you never needed that anyway. It is you and 90 human beings trying to negotiate power right now, and you are an incredibly powerful woman.
I was telling Lynne about your classroom door window and the ways you have covered and watched it be uncovered. In true Lynne-fashion, she said that your blog is a window, too. We, your friends want to peek in. It's no wonder the wanderers at Douglass have the same desire. You are making things happen in there. I'm grateful that I get to witness some of it.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dar Warrior Princess, Everyone has a bad day now and again, and this one sounds like the be all and end all of one. BUT listen to this, you have courage. If you were faint of heart, you never would have taken this job, and yet you plunged in with your heart and soul. You have every right to contact a parent to help this young person; if they rebuff you, it's their problem, not yours. You're doing what you feel is right, and what all of us know is right. You are not guilty of hubris, only love and concern for your charglings for a time. Please please don't allow the few to destroy your faith in yourself. I have faith in you from years ago when you sat at my dining room table with your poems of hope. You're on the right course; you're the best thing that ever happened to these kids. Growl with your warrior's cry and don't let go of your goals. We're all watching and we're all loving you for being the courageous one who's willing to do battle for all of us on the sidelines. Hang, baby, hang. XX you know who

5:56 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Melanie:
I agree with the other folks' comments. You know what you are doing. Even when you don't know what you are doing, you know what you are doing. That is why you've become such a leader of other teachers, and that is also why you put yourself at risk and took this job.

Rebellion in the ranks. Curious how a teacher remembers those moments for a long, long time, whether the reaction to it was successful or unsuccessful. I think we ALL need to keep in mind that it happens to all of us because it is natural in a learning environment. Trouble is, in your environment it involves shouting and kids who burst into your classroom sanctuary saying, "You're fired." For someone else, it may be a student who refuses to do homework or who stops class to ask polite, stupid questions. I remember a rebellion arising in the 1996 Summer Institute when "a perfect storm" of smaller problems came together, and everything relied on what happened and what I said when I came into the room. Susan W (whose advice was something like "Kill the bastards") is no longer around to remember it, but Leslie will, and I do. I can't remember exactly what I said, but I remember this feeling of coming VERY close to "losing the ship" and somehow bringing it back to shore. I realized later that mistakes I (we) had made beforehand led to the rebellion, and I also realized that if it had NOT happened, it would have been even worse. The rebellion seemed horrible at the time, but weeks later I saw it in a new perspective. And I felt a bit stronger myself, as a teacher, after--that I had dealt with it.

6:11 PM  

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