Wednesday, October 20, 2004

literature and writing

Several people in less than a week have suggested that I address what it is like in the classroom, what my students are like, how they respond to writing assignments, etc., and I agree. (And now suddenly I'm thinking it would be so wonderful if I could have my students write blogs.)
I think it's correct to say that my ultimate wish for the students is that they discover that they are as capable of thinking as anyone is and that they have the potential for profundity. I see my job as being a facilitator to help them discover their thoughts. I teach English III, which is American literature and writing (I added the "and writing" onto the course description). I know that teachers are officially supposed to be passing our society's values along to our children, but that's not the way I think. I think we have to decide for ourselves what is valuable. I pass along American literature so they can see the thinking that has come before them by studying the work of the observers of our world, the writers, the people who embodied in their words the climate of America as it developed and as it continues to develop, and so see how our American lives today reflect that. I think learning and reading for the sake of learning and reading is beautiful, but I don't think children are there yet. I think they have to see the relevance to their lives, and they have to think their way through the past, to the present, and see that they are members of the present who are affected by people and events of our past, and see that life is not static, that change occurs, and that they're involved. There the question arises, are we victims of our past? And then we toss that word "victim" around. Maybe I'm also hoping that they can come to some conclusions about what America is, and hence, who we are. Puritanism and slavery, for example, didn't just come and go.
Agh! but that was wordy.
Cutting to the chase, let me tell you that it is not easy getting these children to let themselves think of themselves as thinkers. In the beginning, the most common reactions to me asking that they think something through (almost always through writing) was the slamming down of the pencil, the strings of expletives, even the getting up and the "rolling out" of class. They didn't buy it that they were capable of great thoughts, or, for that matter, any thoughts pertaining to life outside their bus-route defined world. So I've had to slow down, not because they cannot grasp the ideas, but because they don't think they can. I have to be gentle, and encourage them.
My last writing assignment was that they discuss the moods and tones in several pieces of literature, including "The Raven" and "Song of Myself." I must tell you that they did not balk like they'd have done in the beginning. They dove in. They gave it a shot. They're losing their fear of writing and trying out thinking their own thoughts primarily for one reason: writing practice. I'll have to bring home some of their writing about this and type it into this blog. One girl, probably the most vociferous when she's thinking she has nothing to say, wrote without fear and was proud of herself. She even smiled at me. A month ago she would have thrown her pencil on the floor, called me a name, and left.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said:I think it's correct to say that my ultimate wish for the students is that they discover that they are as capable of thinking as anyone is and that they have the potential for profundity.

I sincerely believe this to be true, however it takes time for students to learn this. You helped me recognize this exact thing while in your class years ago back. It just takes time for students to realize that their written words have power and if you keep on believing in them, like you did in me, they will come to find themselves in writing --- if that is what they also desire for themselves.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Plesh!!
Hey, It's Alexis from Mandeville High! I just want to say, I miss you, and will become an avid reader of this amazing blog!
You rock, ms plesh

6:01 PM  

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