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


Blogger TamiM said...

Thank you, Melanie, for FINALLY adding to your blog! I've considered harassing you, but I thought you'd think I was the blog police...

I really do appreciate each of your entries. This one puts a great perspective of how to handle difficult people. That tall, mean girl probably does want to be in your class. I'm sure you're handling it just the way it's supposed to be handled. I love how you handled the class when some of the students made comments during your reading. I will imitate your response. I think I probably would have scolded the class rather than quietly stating that I didn't feel comfortable reading anymore. I know your response is the correct one, and I'll remember it.

I wait anxiously for tomorrow's entry!

8:20 PM  
Blogger Lia Zarganas said...

I, too, have been waiting for you to add to your blog. I was excited you did and i got my cup of tea and sat down to enjoy. Haha. Well i have to say this blog is adding to my life Mrs P. It plays like a movie in my head b/c i can imagine you doing everything you say since i had you 2 years in high school (i've seen u in action)...but i can imagine the great difference in these situations.You said in an earlier post that one of the teachers made a comment after you said you transfered from MHS. I can understand how people would think you didn't knnow what you were getting into...but i think some kids at mhs did teach u something...even if it is minute to what these kids are teaching you, i think there is a dark side to mhs that many teachers never got to see b/c everyone wanted to come to you. I'm so lucky to have been one of your students and FRIENDS. That mean girl does want to be in your class. She wants to be a figure in your mind just like ur students are b/c there probabaly aren't many teachers who actualy care for their students like you do. By the way, I still have most of my writtings from your class when we did free writes on boxes and hubris...i have to keep them, they mean alot. Will check back later for most posts! Love lia

9:58 PM  
Blogger leslieg said...

I feel compelled to put this in writing.

What you're doing right now is important: teaching in New Orleans, making yourself new, creating this blog. It's all important.

What I love the most is how your friends are invested in your story. The teachers are thinking about their own teaching, your former students are responding to you in their way, people who would not have thought of putting their own thoughts and stories into such a public forum now have their own blogs. It inspires me.

Would you consider adding something else to the tattoo?

I have some suggestions.

Is your forehead big enough for more than quote? Please measure.

Hi from Mark.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Melanie Plesh said...

Leslie, are you thinking maybe of a little something like, wait, let me try to remember...oh yes, like to thine own self be true? I think I could fit that on my forehead!

6:11 AM  
Blogger Richard said...


I'm looking forward to hearing the continuing drama of your window. Hearing how you battle the forces of disruption both outside and inside the classroom is something to keep reading for. What I like about your blog is that you have about 5 things going on: first you are playing two (serious) games simultaneously with students trying to disrupt your classroom. That alone is worth the price of the blog. Then, you are also teaching, and your thoughts on that are interesting. Then you are talking to us in a way, sort of reflecting on the whole story and the world. And finally, you throw something away every day--a little contrast.

Before going further--since I'll be talking about games, let me first say that when I say "game," I don't mean something trivial and silly. Read HOMO LUDENS, by Johann Huizanga, the classic book on game, for further information on the seriousness of all game, and how game underlies everything from poetry to politics. One thing I remember from the book that may help in applying this to some of your teaching situations: that most games have 2 sides, a playing field that is "sacred" in some way and out of the ordinary world, and an acknowledged set of rules. And the WORST thing in the world of game, he says, is not the loser, but the spoilsport. The spoilsport is someone who enters the game and refuses to play by the rules, thus calling the whole "game world" into question.

So, back to your class, and teaching, and games students play: the good teacher is the one who understands the game and the players, doesn't let the game or players get out of hand, and let's face it--wins without creating spoilsports.

In the two games you are playing with students at your school--the window game with the unknown player(s) and the journal-reading game with your class, Jeff W. and I agree that you have made some classic "Melanie" moves. Perfectly right in the instinctive sense. And you also have "surprise" on your side, which is good: they haven't quite figured out how far you will go yet, or what move you will make next. I think the only danger you should watch out for is letting the games get out of hand--that is, if the students figure out it is kind of a game, you may be sunk, because all they'll want to do then is play it (rather than learn or leave you alone). So every move you make is tricky. How far are you willing to let the window thing go (from newspaper to legal paper to cardboard to metal etc.) before the unknown student wins because you run out of material? If he/she/they figure out you are in a sense "playing" with them, and they decipher your pattern, you'll lose. (They'll start by breaking the window, then breaking your car window and covering it with newspaper, etc.) So you need to look out for that, I think, read the signs, and be ready to make a totally unpredictable yet acceptable (with your game world) move. Same thing with your kids in class. How long can you go on refusing to read, and then reading only to one student, if they really call you on that? What's your strategy to prevent that yet to remain consistent?

Looking forward to seeing how it all plays out with the students, and keep in mind, we're all eager to hear the faculty/administration games as well. (Maybe it is the ass. principal who is ripping down your paper because you won't put up a bulletin board. Ha!)

12:20 PM  

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